ADC/ Footlights Pantomime: The Princess and the Pea

Wed 27th November – Sat 7th December 2013

reviews

Suzanne Duffy

at 01:13 on 28th Nov 2013

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The ADC/ Footlights panto is one of the most hotly anticipated events of the Cambridge theatre calender for town and gown alike, selling out without fail every year. Fortunately director Sam Rayner and writers Ryan Ammar, Ben Pope and Hellie Cranney have made sure the 2013 pantomime lives up to its predecessors.

The adaptation of The Princess and the Pea follows the story of the citizens of an oppressed Swedish town ruled over by an evil queen. The cast were as near to faultless as it is possible to be and their performances pitched the tone of the piece perfectly so that it appealed to adults and children alike. The heroine Lenor was played with an easy likability by Maria Pawlikowska who managed to make the scene where she was alone in the forest genuinely affecting. Of the ensemble cast Luke Sumner deserves particular mention for his hilariously awful Swedish accent, his awkward small talk with the evil queen when her minion goes to answer the doorbell and his perfect delivery of a one-liner about the privatisation of the Post Office.

There were a few production hiccups, like music occasionally drowning the voices of the singes and microphones being turned on at the wrong time, but that was far outweighed by the terrific achievement of the set designers and live orchestra. The set was the most intricate and professional one I have ever seen on a Cambridge stage while the music created the escapist atmosphere that is so essential to a good panto. There were some amazing vocal performances from the cast, most notably Buttons (Rosa Robson, in her third ADC panto) who had been enjoyable throughout but really shone when it was time for her musical number.

Emma Powell, also a star of 2012's pantomime, was absolute perfection in the role of the evil Queen Olga. Everything from her permanent self-satisfied smile to her brilliant comic chemistry with her sidekick Bertil (Paul Adeyefa) had the audience transfixed. Her wicked cackle was ringing in my ears long after the performance was over. If you are looking for the usual pantomime fare of cringey missed punchlines and wobbly sets then 'The Princess and the Pea' is not for you. But if you want to enjoy an evening of theatre that is, in a word, magical, then you had better get queuing for those day tickets.

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Jenni Reid

at 09:24 on 28th Nov 2013

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The Princess and the Pea made me question how hard it would really be to write a two hour panto and compose an original musical score on top of my degree. The answer, I’m sure, is pretty damn hard, but it is entirely to the credit of the team behind the show that it seems like it could be turned out without too much bother.

A professional standard has come to be expected of the ADC/Footlights pantomime, and they delivered the special effects and elaborate sets, not to mention the sell-out run, which return year after year. Backed by an excellent orchestra the cast were fantastic as an ensemble, their voices coming together beautifully in the catchy group numbers, but it was outstanding individual performances which really made the show shine. There were too many to give proper credit to in turn, but special mentions must go to Emma Powell as the evil, baking-obsessed Queen Olga and Paul Adeyefa as her not-so-evil but consistently hilarious henchman Bertil. Henry Jenkinson’s dame was perfect and his delivery spot on, and although Rosa Robson felt a little unnatural at first as Buttons it didn’t take her long to win over the audience and become one of the show’s most likeable characters. Her solo showcased one of the best-written songs as well as one of the best performances of the night, although my favourite thing about the Princess and the Pea was that each time I thought the musical numbers couldn’t get much better they did. Several of the more minor cast members also managed to shine through and gave excellent comic performances, giving the cast a well-rounded feel. The running time might have verged on the long side, but an energy-filled second half ensured that this was not problematic.

I’ll get my minor criticisms out of the way in one quick swoop since it would be simply scrooge-like to dwell on them for too long. The sound levels could be inconsistent and the backing music sometimes drowned out singing or speaking (some great lyrics were somewhat dampened by how hard I had to strain to make them out) while small microphone issues persisted throughout. The plot stayed on the right side of the line between keeping our attention and becoming overly convoluted, but it was perhaps a shame that the script lacked any really clever plot twists or dialogue which would make you really sit up and take notice. It was certainly crowd-pleasing, and with a show that draws one of the most diverse crowds of the ADC calendar that’s probably no bad thing, but I couldn’t help but feel that there wasn’t much truly inventive work going on. I’d feel bad for asking too much of writers Ben Pope, Hellie Cranney and Ryan Ammar, but with the bar set so high and little else to fault in their wonderful production, why not?

I would tell you not to miss it but, as anyone who narrowly missed out on the scrabble for tickets will bitterly tell you, unless you’ve already booked your seat then that’s what you’ll have to do. All I will do is tell ticket-holders they’re in for a wonderful night, and commend the cast and crew on all their clear hard work and dedication.

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