It may be snowing a bit. It is certainly cold out. You probably won’t get a bus or taxi today, driving is definitely high risk. So should you stay in tonight? No. Get your thermals and boots on and head for the Theatre Royal. Start walking now, you will not regret it.
Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella is as near to perfect as any show I have seen at this prestigious theatre. Every detail is carefully considered but sparkling with creativity, and the whole show is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. Bourne has taken Prokofiev’s classic ballet romance and reset it to blitz Britain – a bold and brilliant choice but appropriate for a score that was only completed in 1945.
The heart of the tale remains the magically assisted romance between Cinderella and the Prince, or in this production Harry the ace pilot (Dominic North). Bourne has kept many of the details that made the original work such a delight, but has added a plethora of details and delights to give us a memorable modern production that sets a new standard for others to aspire to.
Cinderella (the elegant Ashley Shaw tonight) is the put-upon youngest daughter of evil stepmother Sybil (Madelaine Brennan) and wheelchair bound father Robert (Jack Jones, who is also the band leader Alphonso) and is treated as an unpaid slave to the decadent household. They all have tickets to the dance at the glittering Café de Paris, but Cinderella is left to sweep up and look after her ailing father.
There is no Fairy Godmother but quite possibly a Fairy Godfather in the form of The Angel, brought to suitably spiritual life by Liam Mower. Top to toe in dazzling white The Angel brings Astaire like dexterity and Hollywood glamour to the role of Cinder’s magic fixer. He references Cary Grant in a show that is full of nods to our film favourites, from Brief Encounter to Waterloo Bridge.
The design of this show by Lez Brotherston is breathtakingly good. The 1941 setting gives an opportunity for the drab grey austerity of wartime economy and shortage to be reflected in costume and tone, but interrupted by flashes of colour and vibrancy. The glitter ball and red staircase of the Café de Paris interrupt the uniform grey, and everyday items such as a red underground sign stand out against the grey theme. Also standing out are the flashes and bangs and red distant glow of the wartime bombing of London, where life has taken on a particular urgency when any day may be your last.
There is definitely a bit more sex than Prokofiev might have envisioned, with that wartime spirit of living every moment to the full, and Bourne adds some intriguing variety including a shoe fetishising step brother and some boy on boy dance hall romance. The shoe sniffer slides around the stage in the campest of manners, secretly lusting after Cinderella but remarkably promiscuous at foot level. The youngest brother shares his mother’s taste for liquor in any form, preferably clandestine. The step sisters are unusually the closest to normality in this topsy turvy Cinderella family, while reliably capricious they don’t come near their mother for spite.
Cinderella heads for the dance – all photos supplied
Stripped of the detail of the original Bourne finds new uses for Prokofiev’s majestic dance score creating new scenes that while maybe not core to the plot nonetheless give further opportunity for dazzling dance and a whole raft of new characters and set designs. I particularly liked the white motorbike and sidecar carriage to the ball for Cinderella and what appears to be a real 1940s train steaming across the stage. As my commuting partner acidly notes they are one up there on Greater Anglia today.
While this show is completely faithful to the original story the updated setting gives more credibility to the tale, and Bourne’s highly expressive modern dance structure gives rich storytelling detail so we do not miss spoken dialogue in this virtually wordless show.
Come and see this show for the dance, for the design, for the music and romance. The stage is so full of action that there is no room for an orchestra, but the recorded score is magnificent and matches the sound set of Blitz London. The cast are vibrant and energetic, the choreography superb. You will wait a long time for a better show than this.
© Julian Swainson 2018
Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella, Tuesday 27 February-Saturday 3 March at 7.30pm, and Thursday and Saturday matinees at 2.30pm. Tickets £8-£42.50. Discounts for Over-60s, Under-18s and Groups. Audio-described performance on Saturday 3 March at 2.30pm.
To book, log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.