HHTC’s Soho Cinders – 21 May 2024, Sheffield University Drama Studio

Review by Claire Taranaski.

Soho Cinders is an exciting modern musical that is perfectly brought to life by HHTC and should not be missed by musical fans who like a gritty but fun story that takes them on an emotional laugh out loud journey.

Transporting us to modern day Soho and all of it’s walks of life, the show is not only a re-working of the classic fairy tale, political corruption, financial poverty and the desire for fame but at its heart is a love story that everyone can relate to, whether we are in love or want to be loved, between partners, friends and siblings. In this production this love all feels genuine, with superb natural chemistry between all the pairings.

The show is directed by Matthew Walker, one of our favourite Panto dames, and who confirmed he is just as great or even greater directing as he is making us laugh in drag, bringing London to life from the opening bars of the opening number “Old Crompton Street” to the finale and bringing the best out of every cast and ensemble member from familiar faces to new and exciting performers.

We have many favourite performers but a standout is the Narrator, played by Steve Mathers. Steve’s unforgettable performance seems to combine many aspects of upper class males in London from the journalist who has been working for the tabloids for far too long, the private members club member and the sleezy strip club customer (and not just for his saucy underwear scattering skills) but somehow combining these personality traits into someone we want to hear and see more of.

James Smith as Robbie is on course to be our favourite musical theatre actor of the year following this and his recent performance in Sunset Boulevard. James’ portrayal immediately got the audience on board and rooting for him with a down to earth and natural performance and wonderful stage presence and chemistry making him completely believable. He also gives my favourite “awkward” of all time.

Sam Widdowson as London mayoral candidate James Prince had the best character arch of the show leaving us rooting for him and James. This is also the moment to discuss their beautiful harmonies on “Gypsies Of The Ether” where their voices where so in tune that I could not tell where one started and the other began.

Alice MacKenzie as Velcro (aka Cro aka Sonia) is sweetly believable as the best friend we all want on our side and we hope her and her goldfish get the happy ending their deserve. Alice also had a stunning duet with Keeley Kilby as James Prince’s fiancé Marilyn Platt in “Let Him Go” that is beautifully combines that singing voices and the youth of Velcro and maturity of Marilyn

On the subject of Marilyn as an audience we may initially see her as an obstacle but from the first verse of “Remember Us” we related to her and hoped she gets her own happy ending. Also I completely have blue dress envy.

Louise Walker and Leah Rhodes-Birch were legendary as the greatest ugly sisters ever Dana and Clodagh. If they are not best friends in real life they should be and the whole audience would love to be brave enough to go on a night out with them. Like other characters in the show we started off disliking them but grew to love them and wish we have their attitude and body confidence. All of this shone through in their duets “I’m So Over Men” (we hope they both meet their Mr Right’s) and “Fifteen Minutes” (during which the ensemble perfectly captured everything wrong with the tabloid press).

Another character who deserves a mention our Joseph Walker as puppet master William George who gives “The Thick Of It”’s Malcolm Tucker a run for his money and whose musical number “The Tail That Wags The Dog” turned him into the villain and everything we hate about politicians. Opposite him was Sara Ross as Sasha Larkin who had a storyline with Joseph reminiscence of one of the first shows we reviewed her in “9 to 5” and who anyone who has experienced sexual harassment at work will really feel for. Last but not least congratulations to Danni B Hibbert as Sidesaddle for successfully riding a rickshaw round and round the stage (difficult to do at the best of times).

As you might be able to tell we loved everything about this musical and HHTC were definitely the right company to present it’s Sheffield debut. We can’t wait to see what the company and everyone involved do next and urge musical theatre fans across the region not to miss out.

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