London, 1940. Cinderella’s home is over-run by her new step-mother and her loud, obnoxious family. There is never a moment’s peace for her and her invalid father. When invitations arrive to a New Year’s Eve party, to which neither Cinderella or her father are invited, the uproar is louder than ever. During an air-raid, an injured pilot seeks shelter in the house, but is thrown out by the stepmother when he takes an interest in Cinderella. With the family gone to the party, Cinderella dances with a tailor’s dummy, pretending it is her handsome airman. Seeing that he has left his cap behind, she braves the streets in search of him to return it, watched over by a Guardian Angel. A bomb drops nearby, and Cinderella is thrown to the ground, losing consciousness. In her dreams, the Angel provides her with an invitation and safe transport to the party, which she is told that she must leave before midnight, along with a beautiful dress to wear.
The bomb has devastated the ballroom, killing the revellers. In Cinderella’s dream, however, all is well, and she arrives at the ball to find her airman waiting for her. They dance, but he loses her in the crowd and is cornered by the stepmother. He escapes and takes Cinderella home to his lodgings. She returns to the party, but midnight strikes and reality floods back. The building collapses and Cinderella is taken away to hospital on a stretcher, leaving only a single shoe behind her.
The airman scours the streets of war-torn London looking for the girl at the party, becoming obsessed with finding her. He is sent to the hospital for electric shock therapy, where he is reunited with Cinderella. The stepmother and her children visit the hospital and the stepmother makes an attempt to smother Cinderella with a pillow. She is discovered and led away to be arrested. The airman proposes marriage to Cinderella, who accepts.
At Paddington Station, the airman boards a train to return to his unit. Cinderella fears for his safety and asks the Angel to watch over him. The Angel climbs aboard the train and promises to bring the airman back to her safely. There is a puff of smoke and the train pulls away from the station.
Cinderella: Kerry Biggin
The airman: Sam Archer
The Angel: Christopher Marney
The Stepmother: Michaela Meazza
Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Director and Choreographer: Matthew Bourne
Sound: Paul Groothius
Set and Costume Design: Lez Brotherston
I saw this production some 14 years ago when it was first launched, and was so excited when I heard it was finally returning. It was interesting to see whether it matched up to my memories and on the whole, I was very pleased to find that it did. Bourne has made several minor changes to the story – gone is the Prologue which shows Cinderella’s family before the arrival of the stepmother and there is a slight tweak to the ending (in the old version, the airman leaves to rejoin his unit and the Angel goes with him, promising to keep him safe. In the new, the airman and Cinderella leave together on the train and the Angel remains behind, instigating the start of the romance from “Brief Encounter”). Neither of these changes is an improvement; the jettisoned prologue allowed you to contrast Cinderella’s life before and after her mother’s death, and the new ending makes no sense whatsoever, leaving a far less emotionally satisfying and complete story. Change it back, Bourne, change it back!
I have a couple of issues with Bourne’s choreography. First is that he crowds the stage with movement and incident, making it very easy to miss important bits of the story if your eye is caught by something else happening on stage. When there is so much going on, details and vignettes go unnoticed and therefore unappreciated. When your story is as clever as this, it would repay tighter focus on the important bits – and also on the humour, of which there is lots. The second is that this is by no means “ballet”; its “dance” and some of it is very ugly indeed. Bodylines and angles are generally sharp, unnatural and awkward, and consequently unpleasant to look at. I would have liked to have seen a lot more classical choreography. I’d also like to have seen a lot more of the principals – whoever was operating the follow spot last night kept it far too tight, meaning that for much of the show, you couldn’t seen the principals’ legs or feet. This is a bit of a bummer when watching dance! Him Indoors pointed out that the quality of Ms. Biggin’s dancing was far superior to that of her partner, who had obviously partly been cast for his looks rather than his ability.
The entire production, however, retains its wonderful filmic quality and there is much fun to be had from spotting incidental details. I loved the seamless break between Cinderella disappearing behind the curtain dancing with a tailor’s dummy and reappearing on the other side with a real man. When Cinderella runs out of the house into the night, she goes through the front door (did you notice her door number was 12?) and pulls it closed behind her. It then immediately swivels on a central axis and we find ourselves outside the house with Cinderella still in the process of coming through it, exactly like a film shot. Just before Cinderella’s arrival at the ball, mist flows down the staircase and the banisters light up, which is a lovely, magical touch. On her visit to the hospital - Ward 12, naturally - the stepmother’s hat is in the shape of an upturned shoe (you can see this very clearly in the attached YouTube clip). There is a nice salute to the Ashton choreography here, with the stepmother and her family doing the same steps as Ashton’s Ugly Sisters and the train leaves Paddington from Platform 12. A lovely touch is that, as it pulls out, the hands of the station clock point to 2 past 12). In a sublime reversal of film tradition, both Cinderella and her airman wear glasses, lose them, fail to recognise each other and only fall in love when both pairs of glasses are returned to their owners. Genius. Its also nice to see a stepmother you can really, really hate! Catch this production while you can (its running until 23rd January 2011) because its completely fresh, highly enjoyable and a wonderful reworking of the Cinderella story. It took me a while to “get back into it” - my “eye” was out for most of the first act and only started coming back “in” during act 2 – but I hope it remains a part of the repertoire.
So it was a real shame that the bars at Sadler’s Wells sell little pots of unshelled pistachio nuts and allow the audience to take these into the auditorium, as the constant cracking of these led to one of the most unpleasant incidents I have ever experienced in a theatre. The couple concerned were drunk, noisy and quite the most ill-mannered, rude and uncouth people it has ever been my misfortune to sit next to. I’m writing to Sadler’s Wells – its ultimately their fault for selling the nuts in the first place – asking them to take some kind of action against these louts (their seat numbers were Q6 and Q7). It’s the closest I’ve ever come to decking someone in public and I apologise to my companions that they had to witness such atrocious behaviour. To the couple concerned: If you bought your tickets through the theatre then they will be contacting you. If you bought them through TicketMaster, I have contacts within that company which I will not fail to exploit. I’m on your trail and you’d better be out of here by midnight because this pumpkin is loaded and I’m not afraid to use it.