Thursday, December 30, 2010

It wouldn't be Christmas without a Matthew Bourne show at Sadler's Wells and this year I was thrilled that finally he has revived his 1997 version of Prokofiev's CINDERELLA.

I missed that production but here it is again: all revised and specially timed to tie-in with the 70th anniversary of the Blitz which is utilised in the plot. Needless to say, Bourne's CINDERELLA was a triumph, by turns (no pun intended) moving and thrilling.

The story is set in London, 1941 and Cinderella is the picked-on daughter of Robert, an ineffectual cripple. Sybil, her alcoholic Joan Crawford-esque stepmother rules the household with her five grown children allowed to run riot.

Into Cinderella's life crashes Harry, a disorientated and wounded RAF pilot but when Sybil throws him out onto the dangerous streets, Cinderella follows him. Luckily the lovers have help on their side in the shape of an Angel who is overseeing their fortunes and who certainly has a lot to contend with to see them through to a Happy Ending.
It is the Angel who provides Cinderella with the means to attend the ball - a glamorous night which Bourne stages in the shattered ruins of a dance hall, based on the 1941 bombing of the London's Cafe de Paris.

Bourne gives you image after image that captivate you while his choreography whips you along through his story. Indeed it's his plot that is most at risk with his love of a great stage image or sequence, the Second Act in particular is a bit difficult to follow - is the ball and her romantic tryst with the Airman in his garret just a dream of Cinderella's and if it is, how does she end up wearing the sparkling shoes? And why does the Stepmother want to kill Cinderella? I saw him in the foyer after the show, I really should have asked him!However who needs a cohesive plot when you have wondrously evocative sets and costumes by his regular collaborator Lez Brotherston who summons up so many memorable stage images: the austere family home and outfits, all black and grey; the view from Harry's lodgings utilising the famous photo of St Pauls, the drab Underground, the dreamy fantasy world of the club and a romantic train station. CINDERELLA is also awash with the sumptuous lighting of the great Neil Austin, swamping the stage with icy blues or lustrous ambers.As usual Matthew Bourne has many eye-catching characters which give the ensemble a chance to shine: Cinderella's oldest step-brother is a waspish gayer who meets his own love, another step-brother is a covert foot fetishist, when Harry descends to the underground platforms searching for Cinderella he instead finds aggressive prostitutes and pocket-jiggling rentboys and at the final wartime railway station, there are Alec and Laura from BRIEF ENCOUNTER, stealing another stolen moment between their respective train timetables.A special mention must be made of Brett Morris' wonderful leadership of the 82-piece orchestra which is actually recorded, all the better to make Prokofiev's score so full and encompassing the audience as is the production soundscape of sirens and shattering bomb blasts.

The company we had seemed to be the alternate cast and while Noi Tolmer (previously seen as Kim in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS) and Neil Westmoreland certainly danced up a storm, particularly in the Act One 'dummy' scene I didn't feel a particular emotional connection to them which might have been different with the delightful Kerry Biggin and Sam Archer.

No such problem with the wonderful Michaela Meazza (Sugar NUTCRACKER; Lana CAR MAN; Lady H DORIAN GRAY) as the villainous Sybil or Shaun Walters (Fritz/Prince BonBon NUTCRACKER) as Malcolm her gay son. Adam Maskell also stood out as the Angel always on hand to turn back time or bring the chance of love to the lonely.The production runs at Sadler's Wells until 23 January and is followed by a short tour so click here to book your ticket for the chance to fall under the spell of Matthew Bourne's CINDERELLA.

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