“magical mash-up of pantos galore”
I’m a HUGE fan of Charles Court Opera and always fight for the review tickets for their shows. This, coupled with my obsession for panto, sent me into spasms of delight when I heard that this year’s panto at the King’s Head was CCO’s Buttons: A Cinderella Story – and it didn’t disappoint. As a punter I have a bit of an issue with reviews that tell you the story line, and so I will recommend that you see this show with a hearty imagination and a bucketful of fairy dust.
I suppose it is a Cinderella story, with a delightful Eleanor Sanderson-Nash as the sassy central character and CCO stalwart, Matthew Kellet, playing a very cuddly Buttons. That’s really where the trad story ends and the mash-up begins, with Jennie Jacobs’ Prince (not so) Charming and Emily Cairns’ dastardly Dandini as the baddies of the bunch, injecting vibes more akin to Red Riding Hood’s wolf crossed with the Beast (as in Beauty and the…), and there’s no stepmother or ugly sisters to be seen. Then there’s the truly awesome John Savournin as Dame Betty Swallocks, Cinderella’s mum, the hilarious Catrine Kirkman as Eric Idle lookalike PC Pumpkin, not forgetting a nod to Marlon Brandon with a puppet Godfather. Are you keeping up?
As you’d expect from CCO, the singing is truly wonderful. However, unlike their bread-and-butter Gilbert and Sullivan presentations, the songs in this show range from medleys that include the likes of Harry Nilsson’s 70s hit Without You and the thematic use of Somethin’ Stupid – think Buttons and Cinders meet Robbie and Kylie or Pumpkin and Betty meet Frank and Nancy. Possibly the most ingenious and cheeky pastiches of songs were originally by Queen and Michael Jackson – you will need to see the show to discover which ones and why I thought they were so clever.
However, the main reason for my four rather than five-star review is that I didn’t feel totally engaged with all of the musical numbers, unlike during CCO’s recent production of The Mikado, for instance. Perhaps this was because some songs boosted the energy level of the show more than others; I particularly enjoyed the reprisal of Beyonce’s Single Ladies which incorporated some anarchic audience participation involving the creation of eclairs and profiteroles, the slapstick addition of cream pies and a food fight.
As with so many of the new wave of fringe musicals currently delighting audiences in small theatres across the UK, my Oscars go to the creators of these shows. It’s no wonder that Savournin is a magnificent Dame, as he wrote the part for himself, as well as being the show’s director and CCO’s artistic director.
Whilst not all of the musical numbers worked 100%, praise still needs to be heaped on David Eaton, as musical director and the man behind the perfect lyrical puns. The primary benefit of seeing a panto such as this in such a small venue is the ability to see every facial expression close up, which really enhances the comedy of the performance; I just can’t get Savournin’s eyebrow innuendos out of my mind and suspect that I won’t for a long time to come.
Go and see this parody of a panto, but don’t take the kids. It’s a naughty indulgence that needs to be savoured, like a tray of cream buns. Ooer missus.
Photography: Bill Knight
Director/Script/CCO Artistic director: John Savournin
CCO Musical director/arrangments/lyrics: David Eaton
Associate director/choreographer: Shelby Williams
Set designer: Louie Whitemore
Costumes: Mia Walden and Catrin Short Thyrsson
Lighting designer: Nicholas Holdridge
Percussionist: Dave Jennings
Reviewer Deborah Jeffries is a PhD Researcher at the University of East London and Rose Bruford College. Her thesis is entitled ‘Legitimising the Victorian Music Hall’, and it contests the notion of legitimate versus illegitimate theatre. It also investigates theatre architecture, purpose and licensing. She has worked for Hoxton Hall and Wilton’s - two of the UK’s four operational Victorian music halls, as well as the more modern incarnation, Brick Lane Music Hall. Her MA in Drama from Goldsmiths explores the difference between music hall and variety theatre, and the place of each genre in modern popular culture. She has reviewed music and theatre across the UK for over 30 years.