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First night: Cinderella at the Old Vic

Published April 17, 2008

After last weekend’s press night was postponed due to Sandi Toksvig being ill, the comedienne was back on fine form and back in her Narrator’s chair on Saturday when Caroline Bishop went to see the Old Vic’s latest pantomime, Cinderella, penned by the one and only Stephen Fry.

Any pantomime worth its salt must have a cow. And what a splendid cow the Old Vic has employed for Cinderella. It dances, it blinks its long-lashed eyes, and it provides all sorts of lactose-related gags.

Besides the cow, there are many udder (sorry) classic panto elements in Stephen Fry’s first attempt at panto writing, which draws the young audience to boo, cheer, shout ‘he’s behind you’ and, in one of many Fry-isms, yell ‘cake’ whenever the word is mentioned on stage.

But it is Fry’s tongue-in-cheek twists on the traditional that make this panto what it is. His trademark humour is evident throughout the writing, which veers from rude to ridiculous to ridiculously high-brow – Buttons innocently displays his intellect at opportune moments, while chavtastic Ugly Sisters Dolce and Gabbana (Mark Lockyer and Hal Fowler), occupy the other end of the intellectual spectrum.

As for the story’s twists, the ball becomes a reality contest in which a wife for the buff Prince Charming (Joseph Millson) is chosen by public phone vote; Pauline Collins’s refreshingly blunt Fairy Godmother is a wizened old East End gal who tells Cinders to stop being a doormat; and the lovely Buttons (Paul Keating) falls for the Prince’s best pal Dandini (Oliver Chopping), after confessing to Cinders (Madeleine Worrall) that he too imagines his true love as being tall, dark and with strong thighs.

Toksvig as the Narrator is the embodiment of Fry’s dry wit as she oversees proceedings first from her suspended Narrator’s chair and then as part of the play herself, and particularly enjoying herself when she gets to ad-lib with a couple of young audience members.

It is all hinged together by Anne Dudley’s music, which ranges from the catchily sing-along Pantoland, to the Ugly Sisters’ brash duet Lady Girls and the touching I’ll Dance Alone. Topped and tailed by the cow, this is a fun, frivolous and very Fry kind of Cinderella. em>CB

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