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Cinderella and the BeanstalkTheatre? Check. Set? Check. Props and costumes? Double check. Lights, sound and music? Triple check. Actors?…. Ah. Josh, John and James have been so busy writing their very silly mash-up panto Cinderella and the Beanstalk that none of them managed to organise anyone to be in it. But don’t worry boys and girls, because they’re going to do their best to play all 40 characters themselves, complete with all the singing and dancing. While larger venues may be trying to pull in the punters with a D-list-celebrity-du-jour and formulaic gags, Theatre503 and Sleeping Trees have gone back to basics and conjured up a family-friendly panto, jam-packed with nonsense and giddy mischief.

It’s refreshing to see a pantomime that doesn’t rely on smut and puerile humour to elicit laughs – instead it thrives on madcap irreverence, physical comedy, silly accents, and the simple concept of men in Christmas onesies valiantly attempting to play several characters at once, often having conversations with themselves in two (or three) different voices. It naturally lends itself to deliberate clumsiness and shoestring-budget props – everything looks very DIY and cobbled together at the last minute, yet the pace tells us that this has been rehearsed to precision to look this inept. They have everything they need to tell an engaging story and poke fun at themselves.

Our multi-roling trio include James Dunnell-Smith as everything from a light and sugarsweet Cinderella to the Matt Berry-esque Genie of the Lamp, Joshua George Smith as a slightly camp Fairy Godmother and an impishly malevolent Rumplestiltskin, and John Woodburn who brings the house down as a Phil-Mitchell-velociraptor Ugly Sister and classic Prince Charming. Their multitude of characters are well-observed and made clearly distinct from one another with some impressive vocal gymnastics. They’re ably backed up by musician Mark Newnham who provides both sound effects and endless accompaniments to songs both new and familiar. Our multi-talented quartet play, sing and dance their way through everything from Disney to rap to funk, with a few reworded lyrics along the way.

Of course, it wouldn’t be panto without audience participation, and we’re treated to plenty of opportunities for “oh yes he is, oh no he isn’t, he’s behind you”, booing, hissing, cheering and singing along. The whole thing is delightfully daft, appealing to the youngest in the audience, but there are also heaps of 90s film quips to entertain those of us who are a bit older than 6. While some of the jokes are milked for a little longer than necessary, they’ve packed in so much that this is only a minor quibble. It’s such good clean fun that you don’t even notice the absence of cringeworthy innuendos. Cinderella and the Beanstalk is a fantastic way to kick off the festive season, and a joy to watch.

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Reviewed 27/11/2015

by Gail Bishop

25th November 2015 – 2nd January 2016
Theatre503, London SW11 3BW

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