Rating – ****
Reviewed by Alex Foott
Charles Court Opera
Performance date – Tuesday 10th December 2013
You’d be forgiven for thinking it an odd move for an opera company to tackle pantomime. Surely, for those who are accustomed to lengthy arias dripping with melodrama, pulling off a good old-fashioned knees-up bursting with holiday cheer would be a struggle. However, Charles Court Opera’s latest boutique pantomime Buttons – Another Cinderella Story is a glittering success. Nestled snugly in the rafters of the rather sleepy Rosemary Branch, some of the best loved fairy tale characters have been dusted off and given a much needed festive spruce. While, of course, this production shamelessly parades the cast’s enviable vocal abilities in an impressive selection of popular tunes, the overall tone and harmless sense of humour are perfectly appropriate.
The traditional Cinderella story has been carefully unpicked and restitched into a delightfully original tale of friendship and true love. The protagonist, for once, is no longer the pathetically hollow heroine of yore, and in her place stands Buttons. However, this Buttons is a stuffed teddy bear who accompanies Cinderella on her journeys yet is unable to express his love for her. As she is wooed by the conniving Prince Charming, Buttons becomes desperate to win her affections and is visited by a Fairy Godfather. Having asked him for help, Buttons is transfigured into a human but is told that he cannot reveal his true identity to anyone or the spell will be broken.
The cast of seven are a real pleasure to behold as they flit and swagger about the stage in equal measure. During the company numbers, each of the performers’ vocal styles is whisked together into a beautiful whirlwind of harmony, giving the typical boom of pantomime a sophisticated operatic polish. Matthew Kellett, as Buttons, is wonderfully cheeky, inviting us into the plot and winning the audience’s sympathies in an instant. While every one of the performers skilfully participates in the comedy, the standout comedian comes in the form of Rosie Strobel. Her interpretation of the Prince is nothing short of genius with her twitchy physicality and exaggerated voice fetching wave after wave of laughter. The whole piece is expertly orchestrated by writer and director John Savournin, who also steps in as the show’s dame: Betty Swollocks. Connecting with the audience with incredible ease and creating a somewhat homey atmosphere, he allows us to relax and simply enjoy the ride. With a bake-off style cookery class and several reenactments of famous music videos, this show remains brilliantly topical from start to finish.
Amid the blizzard of pantomimes whirling about London this Christmas, Buttons – Another Cinderella Story offers an original and interesting take on perhaps the most famous fairy tale of all. This multi-skilled cast surely stands out from all others with their beautiful voices and jokes at every turn. Adding a revamped sense of Christmas spirit this December, their ability to balance tradition with modernity is truly applaudable.
Written and directed by John Savournin