This revival of Shona Reppe’s acclaimed puppet retelling of the iconic fairytale is a fascinating jewel of a production, ideal for young children and families alike; subtle, succinct and aware of its narrative limits—unlike Cinderella, for example, we’re pointedly told that we’re NOT going to the Ball—while nevertheless confidently giving our imaginations enough room to play and become emotionally involved. Stripped of panto razzamatazz, this is among the best retellings I’ve ever seen.
subtle, succinct and aware of its narrative limits
Experienced puppeteer Rick Conte has taken over performance duties this time round, entering with a duster and a friendly air. At least in terms of performance the show is just him, with the able support of some lighting and sound effects. He’s an articulate, delicate performer, capable of giving the delicate Cinderella puppet—made of rags and pipe-cleaners—a real sense of life and personality. In contrast, her abusive step-sisters—intent on spending their father’s money and snagging the Prince—are represented by a mismatching pair of silk gloves; one orange, one red. It shouldn’t work, but it does!
It helps that Cinderella doesn’t actually say that much; her personality is expressed more through coughs and sneezes than speech, unlike the stepsisters who, while rough-voiced bullies, provide much of the comedy. Other characters are often more suggested than revealed, by either dialogue, sound or lighting effects; Conte himself becomes the handbag-using “fairy godmother” who decides to help make Cinderella’s wishes come true, while the dancing, entranced prince—presented in what’s essentially a dream sequence—is nothing more than a paper cut-out, made luminous with some ultraviolet. Our focus and sympathies, therefore, always remains on Cinderella.
It’s not perfect, alas: the opening “fairytale” music is a tad disconcerting for anyone familiar with Philip Glass’s score for 1992 horror film Candyman. Repeated references to unseen Uber driver “Nigel” also feel forced and out-of-step with the show’s delicacy. Overall, though, the tone is pitched just right; sweet without being saccharine, and not afraid to revive some of the more gruesome aspects of the tale that others have sanded down over time.