Two things that are sure to capture an audience’s attention is a show choreographed by the renowned Matthew Bourne and the idea of a retelling of the Cinderella story set during the Blitz, London 1940. With any production with Bourne’s name attached one expects to be wowed by the choreography and Cinderella did not disappoint, however it was surely the set that stole the spotlight on Tuesday night.
The piece was first created in 1997 but this new production received a makeover to try and further consolidate the silver screen concept that Bourne and designer, Lez Brotherston, were aiming for. The use of greys and silvers are extremely noticeable which complements the 1940s cinematic theme well but did mean there was a lack of colour throughout the show. The cinema feel was extremely well executed with various ‘clips’ from the British Pathe which added both humour to the piece but also really made the production assume a filmlike appearance. It was interesting to see this accomplished so well as other productions have often lost the effect halfway through or failed to commit to the film concept throughout the story. The set was an absolutely masterpiece with a particular favourite being the Cafe de Paris in Act 2. Watching the beams and lights (and even a disco ball!) fly up and down as it went through various stages of finery and ruin was incredible
The humour throughout the piece was unexpected but thoroughly appreciated – whenever working with such an overworked fairytale as Cinderella it is important to keep the audience stimulated through various new approaches. The inclusion of stepbrothers, as well as stepsisters, was one such new detail and the inclusion of a variety of innuendos and side storylines gave the production different layers. Bourne’s Cinderella was a far more adult story though there was still enough magic to entertain any children. There was a concerted effort in the storyline to prevent it becoming too airy-fairy with vivid flashbacks proving the extent of the Wicked Stepmother’s evilness and the astonishing, slightly confusing, Act 2 which focused on a bombed club – the Cafe de Paris. The timeline was a little unclear at times with the flashbacks and Cinderella’s nightmares and dreams mingling with reality and leaving me pondering over whether the bombing was supposed to have happened in Act 2 or whether the Fairy Godfather, Liam Mower, had reversed events and saved the nighttime revelers. However, even with the bumps, the overarching storyline was true to the Cinderella we know and love with Cinderella’s prince being a dashing pilot in this new retelling.
I really enjoyed the Fairy Godfather/Angel character based on models such as Cary Grant and Fred Astaire who brought a masculinity to the magic and whose solos were utterly mesmerising. Dressed all in white, I was so glad not to see a recreation of a Disney Bibbidi-Bobbodi-Boo blue godmother and found it a refreshing attractive change to the story. He had a far more nuanced magic than the goodytwoshoes Godmothers of other stories and came across very human. The way he puppeteered Cinderella and other characters was beautiful to watch and a practical way to bring the idea of magic to stage. Cinderella, Ashley Shaw, was an innocent Londoner bullied by her wicked stepmother and harassed by her stepsiblings. Her solos were impressive but a standout performance was her imagined duet with the pilot. Initially beginning her dance with a mannequin on wheels she spun behind a curtain to emerge with the pilot whose wooden dance moves were both hilarious and entrancing. I was surprised by the lack of dance in Act 3 as the story was hastily summarised and would have appreciated a final parting dance between Cinderella and her pilot, Andrew Monaghan, at Paddington although the Angel/Fairy Godfather’s solo was not a poor substitute. However what I did have an issue with was when Cinderella in Act 2 was wearing her finery as bestowed by the Angel I was a little disappointed to see she magically became a blonde. It felt a little superficial to change Shaw (who was a brunette when Cinderella wasn’t dressed up) into a blonde when Cinderella was meant to be at her most beautiful. It may be beauty pedantics but it was a noticeable and highly unnecessary costume decision.