The concept of a boutique pantomime is new to me but for the trend-setters of Islington it’s a niche market that they’ve enjoyed for the past six years.
I’m used to seeing big budget pantos in auditoria of more than 1,000 seats, with star names make fools of themselves, in a once-a-year-ritual which is loved by families of all ages.
So it’s a bit of a shock sitting in a theatre that seats less than 60 people listening to opera performers, more used to appearing on grand stages with the country’s top companies, singing so close that you could feel their breath on your face.
I think I could get used to this idea. It’s intimate, original and so refreshing – as though you’ve invited a few friends around to perform in your living room. As a trend it could definitely be one to impress the neighbours.
Charles Court Opera’s seventh annual production is Buttons –Another Cinderella Story, being staged at the Rosemary Branch Theatre. It isn’t your standard opera. Don’t expect a blast of Verdi. The training may be classical but this wonderfully madcap group are more likely to come out with Thriller or Bohemian Rhapsody.
This is their seasonal bout of Yuletide madness and it’s an absolute riot.
John Savournin, the multi-talented director, producer, writer, choreographer and pantomime dame (phew!), has reinvented a fairy-tale favourite, thrown in a few topical gags, a Generation Game “slop scene” that involved the front row, and turned a Christmas ritual on its head.
Buttons (Matthew Kellett) is a teddy bear; I have serious doubts about the intentions of Prince Charming and the Fairy Godfather has connections with the Mob. This ain’t no ordinary panto, capiche?
Cinders (Joanna Marie Skillett) the soprano (no, not Tony’s daughter) finds herself in a ménage a trois with handsome, if short, stranger Buttocks (Kellett) on one side and the devious Prince on the other. Plus, there’s murder in the magic forest where someone is killing off the panto characters.
Rosie Strobel is full-on as the Prince (call me Gary) and gets the biggest laughs with an outrageously over-the-top performance; the lovely Buttons/Buttocks makes an adorable lead while Savournin’s dame, Betty, looks fetching in a frock and steers the story-line to its end with finesse (quite fantastic singing too).
You’ll love Simon Masterton-Smith’s cameo as the Fairy Godfather. I couldn’t imagine Marlon Brando ever appearing on stage dressed in tux with a fairy tutu but this is showbiz. “The world is what it is” he declares. A Wise Guy too.
Forget mainstream panto and seek out this novel masterpiece. Boutique panto is definitely the way forward!
Buttons–Another Cinderella Story runs until January 7. There are naughty performances as well as family shows so remember to say which show you’re interested in when you book otherwise the action may come as a bit of a shock for the little ones!
For tickets call the box office 020 7704 6665 or visit www.rosemarybtanch.co.uk.