Cinderella plays it for laughs

John Ramm's Cinderella is aimed squarely at children. But will they get the jokes?

Best known as the endearing Raymond Box, half the personnel of the hysterically funny National Theatre of Brent, John Ramm has deeply serious views on Christmas entertainment. "I told the Lyric that I was interested in doing Cinderella only if it concentrated on telling a story. That often gets lost in panto. If you have someone from Coronation Street in the show, it turns into a chance for someone from Coronation Street to be funny. When my parents took me to pantomimes, I would get frustrated when the actors made jokes that only the adults could understand. Our show will be on one level - the children's."

That's not to say that the production, which is devised by the company and directed by Dan Jemmett, of the Théâtre de la Ville in Paris, will stick to the traditional hearth, prince, ball and palace. It is set in a broken-down fairground, which a developer is threatening to turn into a car park, and the music is played on a Hammond organ. The Fairy Godmother is Madame Sarastro, a fortune-telling automaton, who brings the place back to life and turns the carousel horses into real ones.

One of the Ugly Stepsisters, Ramm, lives with the other (Antonio Gil Martinez) and their mother in the helter-skelter. "If you have a sister," says Ramm, "you've got to be symbiotic, which we've got to work on, because Antonio is Spanish." He pauses and clarifies: "I am not." The siblings may be mismatched, but there's no doubt of their villainy. "The sisters know that the fairground may close, so they're working up an act of their own - The Cactus Queens, Flowers of the Desert. We tie Cinderella up and put an apple on her head that we try to shoot off, and we throw knives at her. Then we have a whip-cracking, cactus-thumping Mexican dance."

Ramm's collaboration with Patrick Barlow (aka Desmond Olivier Dingle) of Brent is still active. The partnership that brought the world such Christmas treats as The Messiah and The Greatest Story Ever Told is creating the third part of this Christian trilogy, The Acts of the Apostles. "My grandfather was a vicar," Ramm says, "and I've spent most of my life trying to make sense of Christianity without actually being able to call myself a Christian." Acts will show what happens "when the disciples have to travel around the world spreading the Word".

That show is still on the drawing-board, but fans of Brent can hear the duo on New Year's Day, when Radio 4 will broadcast their revelations on the painting of the most famous portrait in the world. "Patrick plays Leonardo da Vinci, and I'm the Mona Lisa. I'm convinced that he has fallen in love with me, but he is just paying me a lot of attention so that I'll keep smiling. I'm crushed when he finishes the painting and says, 'Right, that's it. I'm off.' "

Or, if that's too long to wait, you can always roll round to the Lyric Hammersmith and watch John Ramm thump a cactus.

'Cinderella' is at the Lyric Hammersmith, London W6 (0870 050 0511; www.lyric.co.uk) tomorrow to 10 January

Comments