Review: The Emperor’s New Clothes

ISOBEL COCKERELL is both impressed and confused by this bloated production.

shitshow the emperors new clothes theatre review

What do you get when you combine a stupendous budget with the cream of Cambridge’s actors, the funniest writers, most lavish sets, dazzling costumes, and some ridiculous contraption that shoots dry ice and coloured water and glitter and bits of fake snow into the audience’s faces?

The annual fandango that is the esteemed, revered, illustrious Footlights Pantomime.

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Fly my pretties fly!!!

Perhaps the Footlights caught Cambridge on a particularly scrooge-ish day, or perhaps this writer was feeling especially un-festive and couldn’t get into the spirit of Bridgemas. Perhaps it’s because it was still autumn. But the whole thing, while visually spectacular, did go on a bit. A lot.

It went on for three hours.

Is it unfair to say that a Panto can be too slick? Traditionally, Pantos have a fairly skeletal plot, and much time is devoted to skits and bad puns and “OH NO HE ISNT’S” and so on, ad festive nauseam.

This panto had all of the latter, but combined with a lengthy and really quite labyrinthine plot. Let’s attempt to break it down, for the deadbeat simpletons out there who suddenly, inexplicably find Panto really hard to follow:

This year’s CUADC performance of ‘the Emperor’s New Clothes’ begins Once Upon a Time in medieval England. Scratch that, India (cue huge digression complete with beautifully painted set of the Taj Mahal, fake rattlesnake, and Bollywood dancing, so painfully contrived that it just wasn’t that funny). Return to England, and the palace of Ann Widdecombe, a.k.a Emperess Elizabel. Oh wait, she’s dead. Her son, then, Emperor Wilf (Aydan Greatrick), who falls in love with a tabloid journalist called Matilda (Lucy off Narnia), who’s boss is Rupert Murdoch, oh hang on, ‘Rudolph Murder’ (Olivia Le Andersen), who is actually some Norwegian witch called Jacqueline, who wants to become Emperor, who ends up just being Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer. And They All Lived Happily Ever After The End.  Thats not counting the innumerable twisty subplots. Time flies when you’re totally nonplussed.

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Oh Yeah – Contains Partial Nudity

The general impression was that the oohing, ahhhing, booing and hissing of the ‘boys and girls’ (the audience was predominantly made up of PostDocs and OAPs) was at times bit half-hearted. All the jokes were incredibly Thoroughly Thought Through – Perfect Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance, etc – and in the end it got a bit trying.

Here’s the Panto Problem: it’s such a huge deal in Cambridge, that its perhaps become too much. The expectations too high. There’s too much money, too many well-rehearsed, perfectly-timed bad jokes, too many exquisite sets. It was more of a vaguely funny, very well acted, multi-faceted, significantly overlong play with a few belters thrown in than good old British panto.

It feels very wrong picking holes in a performance that is clearly saturated with talent, and individually the performances were pretty great. The only fresher in this year’s panto is Zak Ghazi-Torbati, who made a fabulous dame. Olivia Le Andersen was a wicked, shrill and unnervingly beautiful villain. Archie Henderson-Cleland and Sam Grabiner were terrific duo. Georgie Henley a delight.The score and singing, composed by Ryan Rodrigues and directed by Ben Glassberg, was pretty impressive, too.

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But there were so many opportunities for humour (tabloid journalism, hello) that weren’t really plundered in favour of the highly complex plot. So while the music, the costumes, the acting, the dame, the sets, the villain, and all the elements of Panto were in spectacular play, the plot itself took precedence, and in not lacking for anything, it managed to be somehow… lacking for Panto.

You should still go and see it though, because, realistically, you’ve already bought your tickets and it’s a nice Bridgemassy thing to do and they’re making a shedload of cash, so everyone’s a winner.

Three stars

(Photo credit: Johannes Hjorth)