With no celebs and terrific audience interaction the slipper fits perfectly

There are three types of performer every good pantomime version of ‘Cinderella’ should never have. One is the prima donna (usually Buttons): the washed-up, former soap star who has ended up doing what they used to joke about never doing; another is the bitter alcoholic (one of the ugly sisters): the former household name comedian, who takes his rare media opportunities to argue there’s nothing wrong with a racist joke if it’s funny; and then there are the legs (Cinderella): a former reality TV ‘star’ with more of a cling to fame than a claim, who’s been miscast in a show where the audience will either be too young or too old to know her.

Fortunately, the Copenhagen Theatre CircleÂ’s production of Cinderella – which debuted last week on Thursday at the Kruddtønden theatre in Østerbro – had none of these distractions. Instead, the performances were likeable and earnest. Nobody was coasting or winging it; they were there because they love entertaining and it showed.

It’s true the singing wasn’t brilliant, but this wasn’t a musical (if it was, it would have been an adaptation of ‘Flatliners’ – that’s my last panto joke, I promise) or an edition of ‘X Factor’. A good panto only needs to satisfy two criteria to be a hit: interact with the audience … a lot, and make sure there aren’t any bland, easily forgettable characters. The last thing you want is the question: “Who’s this again?” The developing relationship between the cast and the audience is critical, and the evidence on opening night suggested the CTC got this absolutely spot on.

There were times in the second act when you could sense the audienceÂ’s excitement every time there was a set change. The actors were greeted like old friends. The audience wanted more and more and more. And while the first act felt a little overlong, the second could have easily gone on for another hour.

Knowing how small the theatre is, I had reservations about watching a panto there, or indeed any play that involves a cast of more than three. But as is often remarked, you donÂ’t want to turn down a chance to see a big name in music play at an intimate venue, and likewise this chance to get up-close-and-personal should be embraced with the kind of feel-good hug that emanates throughout the production.

Central to all of this is Siovhan Christensen in the lead. Hers is not strictly a panto performance. It’s passionate and packs an unexpected romantic punch, which is helped by her performance of Brian Rice’s ‘Breathing’, the runner-up in Denmark’s 2010 competition to find their Eurovision entry. Christensen had already demonstrated she could hold a note, but this was a knockout performance – and musically the highlight of the night.

The audience pushed her close though. Under the guidance of the ugly sisters (Iven Gilmore and Brendan O’Gorman), they delivered a fantastic performance of ‘Daisy’. It really brought the cast and audience together, and the evening never looked back from this point. The beauty of pantomime is that very often the provider of the biggest laughs is the audience – and the cast dully pushed the buttons to enable them to deliver.

It would, however, need to be something pretty special to rival the sisters. Aided by an impressive array of costumes, and the best one-liners of the night, theirs was a collaboration that grew and grew on you, particularly when tussling over the affections of a wonderfully expressive Dandini (Kaan Arici). 

Sadly this isn’t the review of a play at a school where all the children should be given ‘equal’ praise, because it’s no exaggeration to say that everybody is worthy of a mention, but I’ll restrict it to an arbitrarily chosen three. Carabosse (Veronica Kielsholm-Ribalaygua), the villainess, achieved a perfect level of shrillness in her brilliant interaction with the audience, although it wasn’t always easy booing somebody so disarmingly sexy; in her dual role as the Saucy Girl and Grisabella the Cat (Elke de Roos) was clearly a crowd favourite, delighting us with her attempts to screech Lloyd-Webber; and the Ghost of Jack Sparrow (John Shennan) brought an unexpected quirkiness to the proceedings and the best visual gag of the night – the actor portraying him also impressed in a small role in ‘A Christmas Carol’ last year, and I for one would pay good money to see him take the lead should the CTC try something darker next time (but please not as one of the ‘Calendar Girls’, which is apparently on the agenda in 2012).

Universally, I’m sure, the cast would agree that they were in safe hands under the eye of director and scriptwriter Barry McKenna, whose latest triumph is all the more emphatic given the confined space he was working with. He was ably served by some fantastic set and costume designs (Maria Lundbye) and lively choreography (Marija Baranauskaite) – two names to look out for in the future.

But for the final verdict, I feel I should turn to my seven-year-old daughter. Sure, her favourite bits were the slik handout, the Union Jack dress and when the Fairy Godmother fell over – but one day on it’s still something that she’s animatedly talking about with an ear-to-ear grin. That’s the magic of a good Christmas pantomime, and it’s written all over her face.

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