Cinderella – Christmas 2011

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Cinderella, or where there’s a Will, there’s a way.

Like most British kids, I grew up with the Christmas pantomime. We would go as a family once a year to see the local pantomime or – on rare occasions – be treated to the bright lights of London’s West End. All the magic and the romance, mixed with knockabout comedy and melodrama where good finally triumphs over evil, was the essence of pantomime for me at the age of nine. Now that I’m 55 it still continues to be.

Of course, panto was already centuries old when I came to love it. In 1717, John Rich, manager of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden, staged a pantomime called The Loves of Mars and Venus in which he himself played Harlequin. Inspired by the Italian commedia dell’arte, the “harlequinade” as it was known was a far cry from modern day pantomime but it laid the ground for the silly situations and slapstick comedy that are still a vital part of the genre. Mother Goose in 1782 was the first panto to star a man playing an older woman and this started the tradition of Pantomime Dame. The canon of traditional pantomimes grew from this period: Jack the Giant Killer was staged in 1773, Robinson Crusoe in 1781, Aladdin in 1788, Babes in the Wood in 1789 and finally, in 1804, Cinderella. During the Victorian era, the modesty of fashion and the decorum of ladies of the time led to the tradition of the Principal Boy: an attractive young woman in the role of the main romantic male character. It was unheard of for women to show their legs, even in tights, and this tradition gave the gentlemen in the audience a rare chance to see a shapely pair of thighs without shame or fear of castigation from “the Mrs”.

From the birth of panto to the present day, popular songs have been included in the show along with dancers, singers and artistes from Music Hall and Vaudeville, who did their “speciality acts”. Ballet dancers, opera singers, musicians, animal acts and magicians all got a “spot” in the Panto, and often feeble excuses were found in order to weave them into the show.

I have loved seeing and appearing in panto all my life. I began in the chorus, understudied the great Dame Jack Tripp, played Daisy the Cow to his Dame Trot in Jack and the Beanstalk and went on to play Ugly Sisters in Cinderella with Frank Williams from Dad’s Army. Vivienne McKee’s Crazy Christmas Cabaret brought me to Denmark 25 years ago, playing Dame for her three times before becoming her assistant director for four years on the show. So I wanted to share my love of panto with Copenhagen Theatre Circle.

After our production of A Christmas Carol in 2010 and the success of ’Allo ’Allo, we decided that a traditional production of Cinderella would be an ideal Christmas offering for the season. We once again assembled an international cast of great performers, both principals and chorus. With the help of our clever and talented choreographer, chorus master, costume & set designer and musical director, we whisked you away to a magical world, learned the lesson of the triumph of good over evil and kept you spellbound for an hour or two.

Barry McKenna