What can we expect from a panto this year after 12 months of complete absurdity in the real world? The answer is a jolly good laugh and a show that actually represents Great Britain today: colourful, creative, crazy, and unapologetically amused by its own ridiculousness. Oh, and there's a villain called Donaldina Trumpetta. Genius. (Director Steve Marmion confesses he chose the name back in February, before the entire world went mad.)
Panto is a great first-time theatre experience for kids. You don't have to worry about them wriggling and making a noise – they're supposed to give as good as they get – and at some point sweets are going to come flying down from the heavens. Cinderella adds to this child-charming cocktail by ensuring every last second of the show is charged with something that will make you either laugh, sing or raise a 'did they really just say THAT' eyebrow (there's some fabulous filth in there, for the 'grown ups').
Within minutes of opening the cast are working their stuff to not 'Uptown Funk', but 'Oxford Funk'. This is fabulous for two reasons: 1) every kid on the planet loves that tune, and 2) the irony - I love Oxford, but it is possibly the least-funky city on Earth. The rest of the show is then jam-packed with music to which everyone will be able to sing along to – I even found myself becoming strangely emotional when Prince Charming performed a medley of Prince songs (not remotely taking himself seriously).
Anyway, Cinderella boasts all your favourite characters, but they go beyond the cliché. Buttons is a 'street' (or something…I'm old) mouse, played by a really quite lovable Matt Ralph; Cinderella is big, black and plucky, played by the as bold-as-she-is-beautiful Rochelle Rose; and Prince Charming is a buffoon, played by Max Olesker, who totally won my heart. Also, if you watched Eastenders in the early 90s (didn't everyone watch Eastenders in the early 90s?) then you will recognise Baron Hardup (Cindy's dad) played by Mark Monero, AKA 'enders Steve Elliot. Vintage soap excellence my friends. The only characters who are perhaps not so inventive are the ugly step-sisters, who are your tried-and-tested panto dames. But nothing is better than a be-stubbled chunk of a man dressed as a cupcake, so I'm not complaining one ounce.
The artwork is worth a mention, especially if like me you have a small child who is obsessed by the Winnie the Witch books illustrated by Oxford's own Korky Paul. Paul has done a spectacular job of providing original artwork for the poster of Cinderella. I adore his lively, scratchy sketches. And his good work is continued by Liz Cooke, whose entire set fizzes with energy and humour as a result. In fact, the whole panto made me really dig my Oxford roots – there are a lot of references to Oxford and all its charms, such as how easy it is to park here (hooray!), and plenty of nasty digs at Swindon (boo!).
In short, go. You will have fun. And Lord knows we need it after the year we've had (oh yes we do).