Writer/Director Judey Bignell took on a huge responsibility with this piece. She had less than a term to mould a heaving cast and a smart script into the first pantomime SUDS (Sussex University Drama Society) has ever staged. On top of that, the drama soc has a rather shining reputation to uphold, so needless to say, the audience of the panto’s first night (a sold-out performance) expected a lot. Clearly, she thrives under pressure.
The plot was everything you want out of a pantomime: A wide-eyed, pure-of-heart Cinderella, toiling under the imperious rule of her step-mother, meets an awkward but charming prince; she shall not go to the ball but, of course, she does. She leaves a glass slipper and it is found, of course, by the prince.
There is, however, a twist. The production walks the line between traditional Christmas panto and risqué comedy. Judey’s first departure from the child-friendly panto tradition comes in the form of Buttons, an adorable manservant (a cross-dressing Tilly Clough) whose first lines in the play involve a lot of cheeky swearing. The lewd lines keep coming throughout the play with Prince Charming’s licentious father and the foul-mouthed, ugly sisters.
Well done to Bignell, once more, for arranging a whole musical set as well as penning the script. Though the lyrics were smart, the singing was, at times, one of the short-falls of the play. However, Cinderella’s song in anticipation of the ball and the fairy Godmother’s musical number were highlights of the production.
The cast was packed with rambunctious characters, each jostling for the spotlight. Faye McKeever as Fairy Godmother won over the audience from the start. Berfin Aydin’s cutting voice and haughty posture are perfect for the evil step-mother, Ella McCarron’s innocent enthusiasm makes for an adorable Cinderella, Allen Turing perfectly portrays his jolly, randy drunk of a king. Though individual actors were good, one of the play’s strengths was in its double acts. Mark Morrough as Prince Charming and Charlotte Chapman as his assistant, Dandini, worked wonderfully together. The ugly stepsisters, Porcina and Hortensia, played by Rogan Dean and Barnaby Paddick deserve special mention for their utterly absorbing charisma and chemistry, earning them places as audience favourites. The cast’s rip-roaring energy was most palpable in the final scene and it is a shame that the slightly abrupt ending cut into a moment of genuine excitement and comradery. Over all, the panto was clearly a great evening for both the actors and the audience (the hissing was top notch, by the way).