Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella does what all modern adaptations of traditional stories should do: it turns it into something new, something pulsing with relevance for the new setting.
Feels passionate and, for all its wild fantasy, true.
Relocated to London’s 1940s Blitz, this production takes the dream-like qualities of the original story and turns them into a passionate escapist fantasy. It is just about possible to watch the whole thing and leave thinking nothing magic actually happened – just a lot of very vivid dreaming. The prince is recast as a wounded pilot who stumbles into Cinderella’s home; they fall in love as she patches him up. He’s forced out into the street again by her evil step-family, and she chases after him but before they can find each other again, a bomb hits and Cinderella goes down, losing one of her sparkly shoes in the process. Then things get really weird. The bomb has also hit real-life wartime venue the Cafe de Paris, trashing the place and killing most of the dancers. The Angel (Bourne’s alternative to the Fairy Godmother) magics them all back to life, and most of the furniture back into place, so that Cinderella and the ‘prince’ will have a place to meet, and dance. The lovers are eventually reunited in hospital.
There is something a little insipid about the classic Cinderella story, with its dull protagonist and unconvincing love story. This one feels passionate and, for all its wild fantasy, true. Prokofiev’s stirring, passionate score makes sense when combined with these two desperate hearts searching the bombed out streets for each other.
Lez Brotherson’s set is sensational. The staging is designed to evoke a romantic 1940s movie, so most things are in greyscale which really helps create a sense of glamorous unreality. It’s with the Cafe de Paris that Brotherson really outdoes himself. The trashed night club is magically restored by the Angel. But the famous staircase remains partly in ruins, and part of the banister is gone. That constant visual sign means you always remain aware that these magical few hours will be replaced again by death once midnight strikes.
The performances are strong. Ashley Shaw’s Cinderella is sweet, but she’s also active and fun. When she’s in role as Cinderella she brings a hopeful, youthful energy to her movement, and when she is transformed for the ball she is so still, so unattainably magnificent as to be almost unrecognisable. Liam Mower’s Angel is a powerful presence on the stage, and Anjali Mehra steals every scene she’s in as the stepmother. Her performance is a good example of what this show does best: opening up the raw heart of darkness, but also letting in every chink of light. Her character does unforgivable things, but she’s also given the funniest moments in the show.
In all, this is a strange, occasionally dark retelling of the classic story that is all the more romantic for it. Go see it, and be prepared to be surprised.