Cinderella: Fun and good-humoured satire
Cinderella (FM Theatre Productions, Manoel Theatre) is in many ways a traditional panto with a female principal boy, the representation of the ugly sisters as a pair of panto dames, a comical fairy godmother, and a far-fromfearful demon king in the shape of a usurper who rules the land.
The Dames are very different in most respects, Edward Mercieca (left) being loud, coarse and triumphantly vulgar, while Toni Attard is more restrained but hints at being more vicious and sexually voracious. Photo:DarrinZammit Lupi
Cinderella’s father, traditionally known as Baron Hardup, has now been ‘Melitised’ into Baron Blafloos, and some of the scenes are played against tabs beautifully painted (by Ray Farrugia) as oldfashioned two-dimensional scenes depicting kitchens and dungeons.
Directed by Edward Mercieca, the show is, predictably, much stronger on the farcical comedy than on the romance. In fact, the number of purely comic characters is considerable.
The Blafloos couple – father and stepmother – are excellent, making me wish their roles had been even larger. Denise Mulholland as the Baroness manages to be extremely elegant (even when wearing an extravagant headdress) as well as a comical snob and obnoxious stepmother.
An accomplished singer, her vocal training can be felt not just in the few pieces she has to sing but even in her perfectly pitched summons often addressed to Cinderella, and she delivers her lines with a clarity that other members of the cast surely envy. Terry Shaw partners her admirably as the henpecked elderly husband always seeking an opening to show rebellion, as he sees his daughter so badly treated.
In Steve Hili the show has a strong Buttons – plucky and greathearted; accepting of his failure to attract Cinderella’s affection, and ready at the end to accept the affection of Rachel Darmanin Demajo’s Fairy Godmother.
Hili’s good voice and buoyant personality make him particularly successful in his scenes with the audience, and it was a pity that the response (involving Renzo Piano) he directed the audience to make was a little clumsy , never producing that trumpet-like cry the best phrases can create.
Darmanin Demajo has, like Hili, a pleasant personality and teams up well with him. She is not the most magical of practitioners. Her only considerable magical feat is to give Cinderella the ball gown and coach she requires for the prince’s ball.
This is the show’s most spectacular scene, with clouds of dry ice filling the stage and auditorium, an illuminated coach materialising in place of a large pumpkin, and the poorly clad Cinderella suddenly appearing in her splendid habiliments to jazzed up music by Tchaikovsky.
Edward Mercieca, of course, also plays one of the Ugly Sisters, the other one being Toni Attard, who has shot up as a leading comic actor in recent years. Both of them are garbed in a long series of exotically grotesque costumes that make them look more often like totems than humans.
The two are very different in most respects, Mercieca being loud, coarse and triumphantly vulgar, while Attard is more restrained but hints at being more vicious and sexually voracious. It is he, in fact, who puts on a false leg in order to deceive, as he nearly does, the Prince in his search for the mysterious belle who was at the ball.
The ball itself, however, is somewhat disappointing with minimum romance on the one hand, and not enough fooling around on the other. The two dames, however, are very much larger than life, and keep most of their scenes spinning at a dizzy rate.
Like most pantos, this one provides a good dose of political satire, and this comes mainly in the form of sending up the two main political leaders of this country.
The Prime Minister is clearly the target of the main comic villain, the Duke Don Lorenzo Ponzino de Castilla, while the Leader of the Opposition is pilloried in the form of Joseph Prince of Muscat, commonly called Archie, whom the villainous Duke forces to act as Prince Charming, while the real Prince Charming suffers from amnesia after being hit on the head by the Duke’s villains.
The Duke is accused again and again of imposing huge charges for water and electricity, among other things, while Archie smiles and smiles and makes sure he never commits himself to anything.
Archie is played by David Ellul Mercer as a smoothie with an insufficient amount of brains but not really dangerous; the Duke is played by a mysterious performer listed in the programme as being a film actor called Larry Ponzing, but who in reality is a well known man of the Maltese theatre. He too smiles a lot but is a doer, whereas Archie is notable for his words.
At the end, both the Duke and Archie get their come-uppance, but Prince Charming (Chiara Hyzler), who gets not just his girl but also his memory back, is no AD leader. Both Hyzler and Jo Caruana’s Cinderella are good-looking if not quite glamorous, but could do with some more oomph.
Like many other panto second acts I have seen, this one drags because too much has been packed into it to ensure that the magical length for panto performances is observed.
The scene in which characters chase each other in an out of doorways, cupboards and fireplaces goes on far too long, but I suspect that the rhythm was not always right.
The dances tend to be common or garden, but at least the dancers are easy on the eye.