BWW Review: CINDERELLA, Barclaycard Arena Birmingham, December 21 2015
Pantomime is old hat in this country with hundreds of productions taking place across the UK each Christmas period. But how can the format be given a fresh spin and shaken up a little? Why not put it in the largest auditorium that a pantomime has ever played! Performing to just under 5000 people each performance, this is exactly what Arenapanto Ltd (in association with NEC Group Arenas) have created with this production of Cinderella. The Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham currently houses a 45m wide by 14m high castle and has a cast of over one hundred, plus a crew of ninety. It may only be running for five days in the lead-up to Christmas but it is certainly a different panto experience, even for someone who is a seasoned attendee.
Executive Producer and Director Jon Conway has created huge shows all over the world. It is an enormous undertaking with such a large playing space as pantomime is a fairly intimate art form and this was my main scepticism before attending the show. However, it genuinely does work. Atmosphere is hyped up to a whole new level due to the amount of people experiencing the production with you. There are a massive number of components within the show including circus acts, a gospel choir, performing arts academies and a Bollywood dance company. On occasion, when they are all on stage at the same time, it is a bit mind blowing as you don't know where to look. Furthermore, as spectacular as the circus acts were - particularly Los Marrinos with their wheel of death - they do seem a little bit thrown in with no relation to the action. With all of these different acts, it has a community production feel but never once appears amateur which is always a risk.
There is also a ginormous video screen being used to incorporate 3D content which the performers can interact with. Although this may not have been needed, the quality of Painting Pixels AV material is very good. The children seem to like the animated characters who pop up occasionally including Dudley the Frog and Maurice Mouse.
Bradley Walsh as Buttons is the ultimate showman throughout. He is all over the stage and up and down into the arena like a yo-yo, covering all bases. He is incredibly entertaining but does occasionally walk a fine line with his banter. Walsh also has a fantastic voice highlighted in his rendition of 'Your Song' and has great chemistry with the rest of the cast. The Fairy Godfather, played by Paul O'Grady, is first seen flying across the arena in full sparkly regalia. He is very natural as a performer and like Walsh, is a seasoned professional. Children's TV presenters Dick and Dom play Prince Charming and Domdini respectively and this is definitely where they pitch their level of humour. In my eyes, musical theatre leading lady Hannah Grover as Cinderella is the shining star of the production. Her vocals are sublime and she finishes Act One with her version of 'Astonishing' from Little Women which is the perfect end to the first half. There is a lovely moment when Cinderella in her carriage travels through the arena, much to the delight of many young girls.
This is definitely a trial that has succeeded and, with a little honing, could be spectacular.
Cinderella runs at the Barclaycard Arena in Birmingham until 24th December 2015.