Cinderella – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Roger Crow, December 2023
Forget Whamageddon and those pricy supermarket ads. Ignore the decorations on houses and the umpteenth screening of Home Alone 2, Elf, and Love Actually. Panto, and therefore Christmas, is fully upon us, and Hurst is in the house. Neil Hurst that is, the guy who was cruelly upstaged by Sean Bean in those tea adverts, but whose presence alone at Hull New Theatre guarantees a happy xmas (and new year).
Since he was rocketed here from relative obscurity a few years ago, Neil has become THE saviour of Christmas in East Yorkshire. Admittedly you can walk past him in the street and think he’s just another bloke. I should know as I did on the way to HNT’s Sunday evening performance and had to do a double-take to make sure it was the same guy.
But before this turns into a gushing tribute to arguably Blighty’s greatest panto star, let’s break down the show. Lee Mead is a perfect Prince Charming, with a great mix of stage charisma and fine comic timing, he belts out the inevitable version of ‘Any Dream Will Do’ from the search for a star TV show that made his name long before much of the target audience was born.
“Feast for the eyes”
Jack Land Noble and Peter Peverley are a hoot as the wicked sisters who try to ensure Cinders (a note-perfect Rebekah Lowings) doesn’t go to the ball. Thankfully she has a fairy guardian (a stunning Olivia Mitchell) who appears in a flash of sparks, and ensures the raven-haired heroine gets from A to B. Oh, and there’s also the Prince’s excellent right-hand man, Dandini (Spin) who ensures the obligatory sense of charm and confusion needed in all such fairy tales is present and correct.
The visually stunning sets are glittering and fabulous; the costumes are a feast for the eyes, and there’s a scene-stealing moment with a bear which creates genuine stage magic. Admittedly there’s a second or two when it feels like we’re just looking at a stuffed toy, and then there’s a collective thud as jaws hit the floor. I’ll say no more, but even if that doesn’t fill you with awe, the carriage that takes Cinders to the ball will.
And then there’s the gags. All sorts from the silly, to the subtle. Dad gags, visual jokes, tongue-twisters, near encounters with random objects, and an achingly funny sketch involving a wall. In fact there are more gags per minute than seems humanly possible.
Neil Hurst (aka Buttons), who had a hand in much of the material, even has a short-hand with the audience when he delivers some jaw-dropping punchlines. That over-the-head hand which is reassurance that younger members won’t get it even if you older viewers did.
I dragged along some old friends and their kids, who aren’t as familiar with pantos, and by the half-way mark, the scores were in. Seven and eight from the younger viewers, but by the end of the show we were collectively in the nine ball park.
One of the many joys of writing for On: Yorkshire Magazine over the last few years is rediscovering panto for the first time in decades, and soaking up the assorted shows around the region. The fact it has been a regular thing now for six or seven years has been a pleasure. This stuff stays with you a lifetime; I should know as I recently bought my first panto programme from eBay 50 years after the event, though admittedly it’s light years from the glossy version on offer at Hull New Theatre.
Unlike some pantos which feel 40 years out of date, Cinderella feels relevant to now. Inevitably there’s a version of Dua Lipa’s ‘Dance the Night’, which is a perfect fit for the new wave of Barbie fans, and the running time is spot on. You genuinely get your money’s worth. Oh yes you do.
As someone who goes to the same panto twice on an annual basis, I’m already looking forward to that second viewing before the final show on January 7 when all of the gags I missed, and no doubt some new ones, beat back those new year blues.
Take a bow Neil, Jack and all the returning cast and crew. You’ve done us, and Hull, proud. Yet again.
‘Cinderella’ is at Hull New Theatre until January 7th
images: Ant Robling