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by on 21 December 2017

 Step lively!


OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 23rd December

Review by Matthew Grierson

When the programme for a panto thanks someone for ‘the loan of her leg’, you can look forward to a fun evening. Well, you can be sure that someone is legless at least. And Cinderella, at the OSO Arts Centre in Barnes until Saturday evening, is quite a feat.

I would ask that you pardon the pun, but that would hardly be in the spirit of this loveable production, which throws wordplay and similar silliness at you with free abandon. ‘We’re fastidious.’/‘Yes, I’m fast, you’re hideous!’ Or: ‘I’ve a good mind to ¬–’/‘No you don’t.’ When the script is not punning it’s winking, knowingly: the ugly sisters are topically named Theresa and Arlene, and true to form, spend most of the show ruining things for everyone else. And in case you weren’t sure that Richmond Park voted Remain, Cinderella gets blamed for Brexit by the sisters, along with everything else from Donald Trump to North Korea. The locale is also brought on stage, with references to Hounslow, Mortlake and the beauties – or boredoms – of Barnes, although the producers have missed a trick by not getting sponsorship from the Coach & Horses on Barnes High Street.

ugly sisters

The japery doesn’t all find its mark, and sometimes it’s shoehorned in just a little too awkwardly, leaving the cast to change step abruptly. There is still a sufficient hit rate to keep us occupied, though, and if it’s clear the audience isn’t biting, the cast have the good grace to shrug and move on to the next gag. But heaven forfend we miss a chance to boo the sisters – when the audience’s customary disapprobation does not come up to scratch, Joel Coussins as Theresa returns stroppily to the wings, complaining that everyone’s gone to sleep (well, he is also the director). When Theresa repeats his/her entrance a second or so later, s/he gets the catcalls s/he’s been expecting: ‘We like the booze!’ s/he jeers. Maybe he and Arlene will be in the Coach after the show.

They won’t have long to wait if so: the show doesn’t run too much over the hour, and has to be pretty fleet to get the whole story in. Such is its pace in fact that, mid ‘On no it isn’t!’/ ‘Oh yes it is!’, Theresa yells ‘Time for some plot!’ to keep things stepping lively. Even the poor old Baron No-Dough hobbles briskly on and off stage, with Buttons wryly commenting as much.


Like a fat foot in a slim slipper, the show is crammed with business. Apart from the badinage and satire, and, oh yes, the story, there’s everything you’d expect from a panto: a smattering of songs (pinched from the charts and other shows), plenty of audience interaction, pratfalls, custard pies, a false leg, and dancing. Yet for a show that cracks along at a fair old pace, it’s odd that Cinders’ and Prince Charming’s turn on the dancefloor is so timid, with the couple swaying side to side as though they were as hapless on their pins as yours truly. As Cinders, Alex Payne busts more moves when she later recounts her night to Buttons, so perhaps this gives an idea of where the heroine’s feelings really lie? Although once she’s married to the Prince in the end, her poor old friend and faithful helper is left hanging. Not even a peck on the cheek from the Fairy Godmother, poor sod.

OSO panto DRcYhveXcAArE_v

At its best, the show’s action is nicely choreographed – the ugly sisters waylay Dandini, disguised as the Prince, to get an invitation to the ball, while all the time the real Prince and Cinders are making eyes at one another behind them as Buttons looks on enviously. At other times, there’s more exposition – this works fine as part of the lively warm-up by Will Jarvis as Buttons, but slows things down when the Fairy Godmother appears midway through proceedings. Maeve Carlin has a lot she has to tell us, and seems far more at ease when singing (what a voice!) But her sleight of hand comes in useful for the crucial transformation scene, when Cinders asks where she can see her regal carriage: Carlin responds that the budget is not enough.

The real magic, of course, is with the cast themselves, ebullient, ad-libbing, warm and funny to a man or woman. Make that man and woman in 50% of the cases. The sisters are a couple of men (Coussins and Frankie Brickmann) dragged up, who only make the slightest of gestures towards femininity, yet vie to make the most ludicrous claims to the contrary. Then there is Hana Jarrah’s turn as Baron No-Dough, alternately sprightly and sighing; while Rachel Coussins as Dandini stooges gamely for the Prince (Alex Hill), even though her moustache doesn’t stay the course … unlike Arlene’s hipster beard. As if there weren’t enough mixing up of parts, the Prince also changes guise with his factotum (another source of much wordplay) to make his way around ‘Pantoland’ and call on Cinders incognito. Like the sisters, PC and D also have a well-worked double act – imagine Blackadder’s Baldrick, complete with cunning plans, sallying forth with a boss midway between Flasheart and Prince George.

At 900-odd words, I realise am now at risk outwriting the script itself, and surely trying the patience of its younger audience members. For while the kids are not always attentive, the production has rhythm – and sweeties – enough for them never to be distracted for too long. Well, it wouldn’t have a leg to stand on otherwise.


Matthew Grierson
December 2017

Photography by Laura Sedgwick and Caroline Silfvering

Editor’s Note

Children’s shows are returning to the OSO on 12th February with Walter and Maisy Have A Very Long Day which is aimed at 4 to 7 year olds and has a short run until 16th February.



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