The Lyric Hammersmith pantomime has a tradition of getting new writing and directing talent to put a contemporary spin on the form. This year is no different, with a script by returning writer Jude Christian and Tinuke Craig on directing duties. The result is one of the most warm-hearted and embracing pantomimes you’re likely to see this year, one that combines the obligatory fart jokes and topical gags with genuine tenderness.
Christian and Craig’s approach works so well because it comes from a place of affection. It’s as much a celebration of pantomime as a subversion – there’s still sweet-flinging and singalongs, but there are no jokes at the expense of people’s appearance, women are not solely prizes to be won, and a wedding only makes for a happy ending if the marriage is one of equality and respect. None of this feels heavy-handed. Quite the opposite. It’s utterly lovely and unexpectedly touching.
Cinderella (Timmika Ramsay) dreams of becoming a scientist. She only wants to go to the ball so she can gaze at the stars unimpeded by air pollution. Her stepsisters, the selfie-obsessed Topsy and Popsy (Mairi Barclay and Lauren Samuels), are only ugly in the way they behave. Their grumpy mum, Shobna Gulati’s Madam Meanie, is a cackling Cruella de Vil-type with a pet alligator. Gabriel Fleary’s Prince Bob is a decent chap who gets anxious at parties. He doesn’t have his glasses on when he meets Cinders; it’s her mind that he’s attracted to, that and the fact they have the same favourite constellation.
Christian teams a pleasing stream of jokes about royal balls – plus one risky last-minute addition about Pizza Express in Woking – with a gently questioning approach to the whole concept of monarchy.
Ramsay is an effervescent Cinderella with an infectious laugh and Fleary makes an endearing Prince. Barclay and Samuels are a cracking double-act. Their slosh scene sees them pelting each other with gloopy detox smoothies. Rhys Taylor’s Fairy Fredbare takes a while to hit their stride voice-wise, but they’re bubbly and fun. As ever, via the Lyric Ensemble scheme, the show also provides opportunities for young performers to make their stage debuts – and, in this instance, do a spot of flossing.
Frankie Bradshaw’s costumes are deliciously witty, particularly the sisters’ Insta-friendly ballgowns, with their #blessed headdresses and ‘sponsored post’ skirts.
The show really plays its ace with Jodie Jacobs’ wonderful Buttons. Not only does she have a rich, powerful singing voice, but she also brings real emotional weight to her character’s burgeoning relationship with Popsy, elevating a subplot into something more substantial, turning an already warm show into something that positively radiates good feeling.
The Lyric pantomime has long been one of the coolest seasonal shows in London. This year it’s also one of the most heartfelt and joyous.