A TRANSFORMED New Hall greeted audiences who came to see Irene Holland's Willow Tree Theatre Company's Christmas jewel, The Slipper and the Rose. A dazzling white stage with an orchestra pit built into it swathed in organza; cascades of fairy lights and flowers tumbled down steps and along balconies creating a fairy land to rival Oxford Street.
This version of Cinderella has a very unusual fairy godmother, beautifully played by Katy Baker. A cross between Mary Poppins and Joyce Grenfell, she pitched it just right in her no nonsense and kindly way. I loved the idea that she should be a dizzy godmother with too much on her 'to do' list courtesy of Hans Christian Anderson. "Pandora needs a new key cut for her box, the ugly duckling is about to hatch and the Little Mermaid needs a sea visit ...".
Jessica Gardener's Cinderella was delightful. Gentle, but never wimpish, and ravishing in her ball gown meticulously sewn by Denise James from miles of net and sequins.
Matthew Browning, her handsome Prince, sang in a charming, yet rebellious, way as his father, the dotty King – entertainingly played by Malcolm Yeates with reference to Hugh Laurie – dished out dictates as to whom his son should marry. Browning wept real tears when Cinderella vanished, but luckily his friend, John, impeccably played by Connor Van Bussel, was there to console him.
The dowager queen was hilariously portrayed as a batty old fruit cake by Vicky Davies; Vicky Baldwin, the show's tireless producer, was also Cinderella's wicked stepmother in glamorous haute couture with two suitably horrid daughters, Hannah Chillcott and Sophie Sowden.
Daniel Kilshaw, all energy and sparkle on stage, also played the piano for rehearsals - what a team member.
Lewis Clarke's Major Domo, a stock palace go-between, was anything but stock. He made him a sympathetic character with clear diction and fine singing.
A young actor, Oscar Sutherland, as Willoughby, gave great pleasure with his reaction to being praised by the King.
At the ball, many dancing styles were in vogue including a pleasing baroque sequence choreographed by Raymond Holland - an expert in the genre. The excellent band was vigorously conducted by Ian Crew; the lighting was well designed by Steve Gage and Maurice James; choreography by Debbie Sherman added magic to the transformation scene and a spectacular coach ride through the auditorium.
Willow Tree proved their acting skills and production techniques continue to grow as year on year they achieve a yet higher standard.