About the venue:
Cinderella is this year’s Christmas production at The Dukes, Lancaster. The Dukes is a great venue, with regular parent and baby screenings in its cinema, as well as a range of family shows during the year. If you are arriving with a pram, then just go down the left hand side of the building and round to the back door, ring the bell and someone will come to let you in. During the performances of Cinderella, prams can be left in the gallery, where there is plenty of space.
My son is 5 years old and when I told him we were going to see Cinderella, he was pretty firmly against the idea, telling me it was for girls. I don’t know where kids get these ideas from, but at age 5, there does seem to be a big division on some things, and he is very against all the princess dresses, wanting nothing to do with it at all. However, the temptation of going with a friend and the excitement of wrapping up warm and heading out to the theatre late on a saturday afternoon, overcame his prejudices.
I have to admit, we were late! I used to be so reliable in terms of timing, but we were heading there from a friends house and getting both 5 year old boys with their shoes on and out the door takes a surprising amount of time more than just for one boy. (Really shouldn’t be surprised, but hey, it happens!)
Thankfully, arriving a little late is not a big deal – when we collected our tickets we were informed that it had just started and there was another family waiting to go in, someone would be out to collect us in a few minutes and take us through – we just had to wait until the end of the first song, and due to the lights on the ceiling, the boys declared the corridor just outside the theatre to be the ‘Christmas corridor’ which they were thrilled by.
If you want to buy drinks from the bar to take through to the theatre, then that’s fine – they just make sure to use plastic glasses if you’re taking them through.
Once inside the room, it’s small and cosy, not overwhelming at all. The stage is in the centre of the room, with seating going all the way round which is rows of comfortable padded benches, perfect for children who want to sit independently one minute, cuddle right up against your side the next, and then go on your lap. Your tickets do have seat numbers on, but as we arrived late, we were shuffled into the nearest available seats by the door, which were great – in fact as it’s such an intimate setting, I think all the seats would be good. There’s the option of gallery seats too, which are higher up around the edge and these can be amazing from a family perspective as there’s only one row of seating and hence room for kids to move around a little without disturbing other people.
My reluctant child who had been so insistent he wouldn’t enjoy anything clearly aimed at girls who like princesses, was fascinated, laughing, and enthralled within minutes. (Just in case you’re wondering, there’s nothing about this show that caters purely for girls who like princesses, not that there’s anything wrong with that.) He was fascinated to see the main character, Ella, sitting up a tree.
In true Dukes tradition, there is a small cast of actors, 5 in this case, and each of them (apart from Ella), play multiple roles, the most impressive transition being onstage. As that transformation happened in front of us, we could hardly believe how simple, clever and effective it was. The pantomime dame was a move away from the traditional huge dresses and rosy cheeks – the clothing choices for stepmum (apart from when she dressed for the ball) were more along the lines of something I could have imagined my grandmother (who was always very smartly dressed) having worn.
In fact, much as I enjoyed the whole performance, the stepmum totally stole the show for me, and was my son’s favourite character too. She was so deliciously mean, and it was exciting to see what she would do or say next.
Of course, this Cinderella is a modern twist on the tale. Ella loves spending time in the woods, and is friends with the birds. The prince is an avid birdwatcher, Ella has a stepsister and stepbrother, and seeing just how that develops and what the mean stepmum puts them through, is a highlight! The sound effects created onstage by the siblings whilst mum caused mischief greatly fascinated the children and was pretty dramatic, adding to the menace.
Although this wasn’t the sort of panto with shouts of ‘he’s behind you..’, there was still opportunity for audience participation, with a few boos (or my son moo-ing instead…), boots to be tried on, handbags to be held…..As any good family show should have, there are levels of humour and cleverness that the grownups watching will really appreciate, and plenty there for the children to love too. In fact, I’m left with the feeling that I really want to go and see it again – a true mark of a very good performance.
To end, just a couple of practical things: there is an interval halfway through, giving you the chance to go to the loo, the bar, or buy ice cream/sweets from the staff who come in and set up shop on the stage. The whole show, including the interval was about 2 hours. We went to the 4.30pm show on Saturday, and when it finished, it was perfect timing to top off a lovely Christmas outing with a meal.
Cinderella is on until the 11th January, with prices from £11.50 (dependent on date and seat).