’Tis the season for Christmas pantos across the UK, and there could not be a more ideal opener to this mad tradition than Lyric Hammersmith’s joyously woke Cinderella. Written by Jude Christian, this Cinderella takes us right into the heart of contemporary Hammersmith (the Queendom of Hammersmith, to be precise), where an emoji-infused and socially engaged fairytale unfolds with down-to-earth zest. This is a cheeky, wildly allusive adaptation whose happy ending is not limited to its heroine: a lesbian couple and a reconciled stepmother are part of the playful, harmonious tableau that concludes the evening.

Tinuke Craig’s staging of this rollicking tale avails itself of a resilient cast and increasingly restless design elements. It takes a while for the production to find its true bearings, but as soon as the right mood is captured, the thumping energy on the stage proves infectious. Among the great enablers of this are Rhys Taylor’s primly outrageous Fairy Fredbare and Shobna Gulati’s lovably wicked Madame Meanie. Both actors convey cartoonish intensity with fine control. Timmika Ramsay’s Cinderella manages to be convincingly upbeat the entire time, while Jodia Jacobs’ Buttons becomes a reliable source of heart-warming wit. Gabriel Fleary portrays the socially anxious Prince with prickly energy.

Frankie Bradshaw’s ever-changing set design drives the story through a wide range of settings: painted backdrops, cardboard cutouts, and tongue-in-cheek props create a world in which self-aware simplicity is the essence. Joshua Pharo’s nearly psychedelic lighting enhances the rainbow palette of this dreamy scenography, whose pairing with a story that abounds in real-life references makes for a strangely appealing mixture. Add to this a series of entertaining songs and goofy choreography—and you are in for a treat.

At once topical and blithe, this is a Cinderella that throws shade at the royal family, Mary Poppins, and the upcoming general election, but also celebrates same-sex love, Black Lives Matter, and the people of Hammersmith. Its ties to the world outside of the theatre are nicely counterbalanced by its desire to immerse us in a magical world. It’s a pleasantly effective concoction.

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