The snow which carpeted Woodcote to a depth of four inches, followed by minus temperatures, making pavements treacherous and most side-roads almost impassible, failed to deter the hardy locals who turned out in droves to ensure that the annual Woodcote pantomime played to sell-out audiences on the first weekend in February. Indeed, the previous weekend’s three performances were also sell-outs. The production, ‘Cinderella’, By David Swan, was the Woodcote Amateur Dramatic Society’s 54th consecutive panto and as an antidote to winter blues it did not disappoint. The well-known plot, with many quirky twists, proved the perfect vehicle for the usual panto fun and frolics and there were even more than usual opportunities for audience participation.
It was good to see a Cinderella whom the plot allowed a part in the humour and young Katie Peeling played her part delightfully, with her singing a particular strength. Laura Cripps, following the tradition of a woman as the leading man, also gave an accomplished performance as Prince Charming. In this version, the Prince is far more interested in playing football than finding a bride, and so swaps places with his sidekick Dandini, to add to the confusion and chaos. Dandini was played raffishly to near perfection by James Mathers,
The main villain, the wicked stepmother, Zelda, practises the dark arts of witchcraft, thus facilitating a Halloween feature central to the plot. The irascible Zelda was portrayed with sinister waspishness by Marcia Spiers who succeeded in attracting the usual barrage of boos and hisses. Her two sidekicks, Trick and Treat, were played enthusiastically by Holly Bassett and Philippa Mason.
Of course, the slapstick was provided by the ugly sisters, Lavatrina and Potterina. The highly-accomplished Terry Sopp exploited every comic situation to the full as Lavatrina and Marion Pigott followed his example wonderfully as Potterina.
Throughout the panto much of the humour was orchestrated by Andy Henderson, the quintessential Buttons; the part could have been written for him. Andy has developed into a talented performer, and he was on top form.
As everyone knows, the story needs a Fairy Godmother to counter-balance the evil and make everything right in the end; and who better to fill this role than another regular pantomimer, Heather Simpson. In one scene Heather morphed admirably into Cilla Black as a ‘Surprise, Surprise’ approach was taken to discovering the ownership of the magic slipper.
The witchcraft theme enabled the Ball to turn into a masked Halloween Ball complete with love potions all-round. Here, Boris, the hen-pecked and bumbling husband of Zelda, credibly played by Patrick Thomas, managed to avoid his wife, but not for long.
Finally there were some nice little cameo parts for aspiring young actors, most notably for Evie Bassett as the ‘Spider’.
As well as the onstage action this production had many other strong features, including some stunning sets, visual effects and lighting, with skilful use of ultra-violet; terrific musical accompaniment, directed by Helen Bilkey, and wonderfully colourful costumes with elegant ball-gowns.
This “Cinderella” was quite a complex version to stage and it was a brave choice for first-time producers, John Worsfold and Kathy Laughton. There is no doubting that with the total support of the whole society, they pulled it off magnificently.