Abingdon Drama Club kicked off its 70th anniversary year last night with a splendid first night of its traditional family pantomime. What a breath of fresh air, to see a panto which remembers the primary importance of telling a good story! It was good to see the amateurs bucking the recent trend of professional companies to rely purely on glitz, glamour and audience goodwill, working their way through a plot-less checklist of panto ingredients, eliciting flash-mob hisses and boos by lighting convention rather than truly villainous villains. Abingdon Drama Club’s production got most of the standard “oh no he isn’t”s and “behind you!” elements over in the first two minutes, and then got on with telling a rollicking good story with well-drawn characters.
Liz Adams provided a delightfully intelligent script for her 21st century re-telling of the traditional story, refreshingly unsmutty, but full of humour, replete with unexpected twists. The limitations of the tiny venue that is the Unicorn Theatre – particularly in relation to the transformation scenes – were overcome by a mixture of comic inventiveness and technical ingenuity. The production was technically seamless, even on the first night.
The Junior Drama Club was well represented in this production – not just as the cuddly animals but in many of the main characters. Cinderella (Amber Wyatt) and the Prince (Harry Naylor) were completely charming, natural and at ease in their roles, and Victor Moynot threw himself into the ugly sister role of Nightshade with such gusto and guile we almost felt s/he deserved to win the Prince’s hand! The song-and-dance number 'Top Hat and Tails' was performed with entertaining characterisation by the slinky cat (Tiff Akkouche), recalcitrant dog (Lee Orchard) and Hayley Jones, who won the audience’s hearts with her bubbly Buttons, so remarkably light on her feet, bright in her range of facial expression, and sweet of voice. We also enjoyed the nascent comic genius that is Leon Witcomb, as the Coachman/Rat.
Cinderella runs until Saturday 25 January at the Unicorn Theatre, in Abingdon – worth a visit as an atmospheric venue in itself. If the matinees sell out, do consider an evening performance (running time was just under two hours, and will probably reduce as the pace picks up after the slight stiffness of a first night): take a coat for the interval and enjoy a hot chocolate in the long gallery.