Fringe Box



Stage Dragon: Cinderella – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre ‘Sooo Goood!’

Published on: 12 Dec, 2023
Updated on: 12 Dec, 2023

By Ferenc Hepp

Photos Craig Fuller

A new partnership of pantomime dames was presented in this year’s Yvonne Arnaud pantomime Cinderella. And it works well.

Matt Pinches, from the Guildford Shakespeare Company, is Peter Gordon’s new ugly sister, the change necessary because of the notable absence of Kit Hesketh-Harvey, who sadly passed away in February.

I was very touched to see in the programme that this year’s performances are being dedicated to Kit.

Following the usual introduction by the Fairy Godmother, played by Claudia Kariuki, making her panto debut in Guildford this year with a delightful performance, the action opens with Join Us from Pippin, and this is when first meet the chorus and some of the leads.

Claudia Kariuki as Fairy Godmother

The ensemble is made up of a few recently graduated drama school students and some who are in their final year of studies, making their professional debuts. They bring a youthful and energetic enthusiasm that panto needs and, although their choreography is not overly taxing, their performances are committed and fun throughout.

The music choices are good, although we have heard some of the same songs recently, but they occasionally sounded slightly tinny from the speakers, however, that may have just been an issue at the performance I attended. The set is mainly made up of painted flats, but have plenty of sparkle.

James Merry as Buttons and Lucy Benjamin as Baroness Hard-Up

We soon meet Buttons (James Merry); he commands the stage well, with plenty of energy, but I would have liked to have seen more silliness. There is certainly no shortage of corny jokes from Merry and they are well delivered.

Something else there is plenty of this year, are jokes and puns which would be appreciated by more of the adult members of the audience, but luckily should go over the heads of the children.

Some examples to look out for are Buttons’s toolbox, Thelma’s badger, and Louise’s interestingly shaped ball gown.

Thelma and Louise are the Ugly Sisters, and we see the return of PG (Peter Gordon) for his 17th appearance in an Arnaud panto, in his element, along with one of the founders of Guildford Shakespeare Company, Matt Pinches, for his first.

But this gap in Dame experience is not at all obvious, as they have a great chemistry and work very well together with their individual characteristics complementing each other perfectly, causing much hilarity.

Lucy Benjamin as Baroness Hard-Up is the baddie, receiving lots of boo-s from the audience. Benjamin plays this quite subtly, even with a smile on her face, which makes an interesting change from a traditional character of this style and this absolutely works.

The principal cast is completed by Stanton Wright as Prince Harold and Clair Gleave as Cinderella.

Stanton Wright as Prince Harold and Clair Gleave as Cinderella

Wright is not your typical characterless prince but brings a lot of warmth and humanity, and Gleave’s innocence as the title character is extremely likeable and easy to take a shine to, with an ear-to-ear smile throughout.

Act One is quite dialogue-heavy and could do with some more music and spectacle, or scenes shortened, but Act Two makes up for this by well-received song and dance numbers, as well as an all-time panto favourite; the 12 Days of Christmas, which has a few extra bits thrown in this year, along with the traditional custard pies.

Clair Gleave as Cinderella

The finale is as glittery as ever with some outrageous costumes for the Ugly Sisters, and brings a fitting conclusion to a very enjoyable evening.

Some children may find two and a half hours a little tiring, but I agreed with a child in front of me, when he left his seat and said: ” This was sooooo goooood!”

Cinderella is written by Jack Counsel, directed again by the theatre’s director and chief executive, Joanna Read, with musical direction by Andrew Linham and choreography by Verity Holt. The set is mainly made up of painted flats, but have plenty of sparkle.

Cinderella runs at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until Sunday, January 7 and tickets are available via the website: or by calling the box office on 01483 440000.

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