CINDERELLA | STAGE REVIEW
Reasons to rejoice: another spectacular Matthew Bourne show is back, and with it comes all the magic that’s expected and as always, Bourne’s touches of realism in a fairytale. This Cinderella is a new version of his 1997 ballet but keeps the original premise – and a brilliant idea, at that – placing the story of woefully put-upon Cinderella (Ashley Shaw) during World War 2. In place of a prince, there’s injured RAF pilot Harry (Will Bozier) and an angel (Liam Mower) instead of a fairy godmother. Additionally to the wicked stepmother (Anjali Mehra) and greedy stepsisters, there’s also a trio of non-blood brothers including one who’s a hilarious foot/shoe fetishist (oh those glittering slippers)! Her father is a wheelchair-bound veteran who loves her but is powerless to help her when she implores him.
Some ahhh moments: Cinderella’s sweet waltz with a dressmaker’s dummy who comes to life in the shape of her pilot and their romantic night together while trying to snatch a moment’s happiness with St. Paul’s silhouetted against a London on fire. Bourne’s a massive film buff and classic titles are referenced throughout his Cinderella – the heroic pilot and guardian angel/a heavenly scene with dancing lost pilots and bombers (A Matter Of Life And Death); prostitutes plying their trade (Waterloo Bridge); and the torn adulterous couple from Brief Encounter (look for Laura reading her book at Paddington station).
Lez Brotherston’s Olivier Award-winning sets and costumes are meticulously done, even when the majority of colours are grey to show austerity and drabness; everything still stands out with touches of red, blue and white (his stylistic wittiness is not forgotten with a Schiaparelli shoe hat making an appearance as just one example).
He positively outdoes himself in Act Two’s Café de Paris setting. The landmark society club really was hit on the night of 8 March 1941 with the death of at least 34 staff, band members and guests. The bombing (not a spoiler as this is in the programme) happens not as expected. The guardian angel turns back the Gothic clock face and awakens the party-goers as if from slumber for their last dances in a ghostly but emotive way, which Bourne’s choreography and Brotherston captures sensitively without being gruesome.
Caps doffed to Neil Austin (lighting), Duncan McLean (projection) and Paul Groothus (sound) for also bringing the besieged capital into being with flashlight-shining ARP Wardens, searchlights scouring the night sky, anti-aircraft fire and air raid sirens during the blackout.
The dancers execute Bourne’s steps – a mix of non-pointe ballet and modern dances of the time faultlessly. Even though the theme is sombre, it’s shot through with typical Bourne humour including a drunken ensemble, the mother catching her gay son in an embrace with a gotcha-moment instead of a scolding and Cinderella’s head-bobbing family on the move.
Bourne complements Prokofiev’s superb darkly romantic and dramatic score – which the composer wrote during that wartime – perfectly. The only quibbles are that Mower’s (fantastic dancer that he is) portrayal of the guardian angel comes off a tad too aloof and the ball and hospital scenes go on slightly too long. His villainous characters can sometimes be more interesting than his lovers.
The choreographer said this work was created in tribute to his family and everyone who made sacrifices and found or lost love during WW2. His Cinderella is so fitting in showing, especially during war, that death is just around the corner and happiness can be fleeting, so grab it while you can.
words Rhonda Lee Reali
photo SIMON ANNAND