Review: Cinderella – Stepsisters before misters

Margaret Agnew reviews Cinderella, by Gregory Cooper, directed by Kathleen Burns, at The Court Theatre, Tuesday 11 April 2023, assisted by junior reviewers Felicity and Lilly (both age 10).

Overheard in the foyer (as we eat pizza and chips and partake in some colouring-in) before the show – Mum talking to kids wearing plastic tiaras: “Do you know I went to school with the director? She’s a Court Jester now.”

Has the cliché Ōtautahi question (“what school did you go to?”) morphed into “which Court Theatre luminary did you go to school with?” – for the sake of this review, let’s say yes.

Me, I was a few years behind the playwright Greg (That Bloody Woman) Cooper at high school. If you’re wondering how well a middle-aged man can relate to the four-year-old in an Elsa dress sitting next to my 10-year-old co-reviewers, he does OK, though some references are dating rapidly. Alongside a few nudge-nudge-wink-wink jokes for the adults, such as massive clocks and “Netflix and chilli con carne”, plus some nods to the locale – “your dress has more rips than Taylors Mistake!” – there are desperate attempts to speak to the chronically online digital natives of today, with Tiktok dances, YouTube mentions and other hopefully relatable kid culture.

A couple of recent controversies spring to mind as the excited junior audience and their grand/parental units shout at the Fairy Godmother (Cameron Clayton) to whip out her magic sceptre… We could probably riff on the beloved panto tradition of men in drag and raucous theatre audience behaviour, but let’s stick to the G-rated show at hand.

As tradition dictates, poor downtrodden Cinders (Rebekah Head, in fine voice) has to play the straight-woman to her shamelessly scene-stealing stepsisters, purple-wigged Beryl (also Cameron Clayton) and bleach-blonde Cheryl (Cameron Douglas, magnetically multi-talented as ever), but she valiantly holds her own as the sisters get all the snore-bum-fart jokes, pratfalls, and mean-girl snark to play with.

In this busy three-hander, both Camerons play multiple roles. Clayton especially pulls off some swift stagecraft as he rushes from playing bitchy Beryl in a bustle on stage to magically pop up behind the audience, moments later, as the fabulous Fairy Godmother in high heels and hot pink Barbie business / eveningwear chic (barely puffing, albeit slightly sweaty).

Cinderella has her own cheeky asides, but doesn’t stand a chance against the sassy stepsisters and fairy godmother. She gets the best quick-change moment, however, as the magical makeover manifests.

Writer Cooper and director Kathleen Burns both have strong improv-theatre backgrounds and know how to entertain the masses with panto traditions that have been around for generations. The audience doesn’t quite have to yell “Behind you!” but they do have to call out “Watch me Whip / Watch me Whip Naenae” from 2015, so ancient history to these tiny tykes. Likewise the 1960s Flipper theme song remix may perplex their parents.

The professional, well-paced, lightly musical, well-choreographed show – complete with sparks, smoke machine and sparkling mirrorball – is great value. It is a welcome return for folks looking to entertain and / or introduce their under-10s to the theatre these holidays.

From the junior staffers, Felicity and Lilly: “the stepsisters were the best, they were really funny, especially when they fell; it might have been better if they had multiple actors but it was funny because the stepsisters’ actors were men; the dancing and singing was really good”. Final thoughts: “I liked it even better than Moana [Jr. – Court Theatre production, 2021].”

Season runs through the school holidays until 22 April 2023. Tickets from $12.

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