‘Cinderella: The Socially Distanced Ball’: a gleefully rude panto riposte to 2020

Theatre, Panto
Cinderella: The Socially Distanced Ball, 2020
Photo by Mark Senior Oscar Conlon-Morrey

Time Out says

This fast-paced, foul-mouthed adult panto feels like a cathartic farewell to 2020

The Turbine Theatre’s inaugural pantomime, ‘Cinderella: The Socially Distanced Ball’, isn’t subtle or sophisticated or always entirely well-judged. But in terms of creating art capable of engaging with our noticeably awful present moment, Jodie Prenger and Neil Hurst’s adult panto really hits the spot. It’s a barrage of filth, fury and foul-mouthed fun that combines a queered-up take on the rags-to-riches story with endless gleeful potshots at the social-distancing era and the UK government.

Is it especially clever that Rufus Hound’s Buttons asks the audience to yell ‘FUCK THE TORIES’ every time he says ‘hello boys and girls’? It is not. But there’s just something cathartic about its puerility: the whole show is permeated by a joyous sense of demob happiness towards our soon-to-expire annus horribilis.

In the most audience-interactive role, seasoned comic Hound tends to get the biggest laughs, but the small ensemble – there is a good running gag about characters being cut from the plot to be compliant with the rule of six – are an all-round hoot. Again, I’m not sure that having West End performer Debbie Kurup drag up as ‘Purple Rain’-era Prince in order to play Prince Charming is particularly witty. But it was just delightfully daft. The panto form allows for continual references to hand-washing, Priti Patel and the like, but the joy of it is that it’s never weighed down by the need to do anything more profound than take the piss. It doesn’t hurt that Lizzy Connelly’s production is a compact 75 minutes: ‘traditional’ pantos frequently noodle on like prog-rock records, but this ‘Cinderella’ has a pleasingly punky velocity.

It’s not what you’d call big-hearted, and there are a couple of gags that punch uncomfortably down. In a normal year you might ask questions about why it’s set in Soho, rather than Battersea – it’s almost unheard of for a London panto not to be rooted in its own borough, and points to the whole Battersea Power Station redevelopment’s lack of meaningful rootedness in the local community.

But this is not a normal year, or panto season, and ‘The Socially Distanced Ball’ feels like surprisingly urgent theatre – a cackling two-fingered salute to everything that’s defined our lives since March.

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