The Derby Theatre once again eschews the predictable seasonal appeal of pantomime by putting on Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Grimm’s fairy tale “Cinderella” ,following last year’s hugely successful production of “ A Christmas Carol”.
Director Sarah Brigham likes her players to be multi- disciplinary, and this show boasts dancing, singing, and on stage musicians. The core story is the much-loved one handed down over generations. Cinders is having an awful time of things in the kitchen with only rats for company, and the bullying of her step-sisters to endure, then she learns of a Grand Ball, and is determined to attend, there she meets her Prince but all does not go to plan.
Playing the central role of Cinderella, is Derby-born Esmé Sears. She makes a fine job of it too, as she does of the singing, particularly her big solo ballad “Gone”. Her nemesis, the evil step mother, is also a Derbyshire lass, Rebecca Naylor, who revels in giving Cinders a torrid time.
Mike Kenny’s twist is to have all the characters, bar Cinderella, doubling up as rats, enabling a memorable first scene as the long tailed vermin scuttle in through windows, down the chimney, and up through trap doors. All armed with a variety of instruments, they “rattle” through an original score bemoaning the life of a rat and celebrating the efforts of those at the bottom of the social scale. The efforts of the professional cast are augmented by a young school age team who acquit themselves with talent, and distinction.
The star of the show is Stephanie Rutherford as “This Un”, one half of the ugly sisters playing opposite “That Un”. She throws herself into the larger than life role, injecting much needed comedy, pace, and energy into proceedings, as well as playing a number of instruments, including a bass trombone. “That Un”, Chris Lindon, her ugly sister, playing opposite her, is cast as a man. Chris plays it straight as a man in a dress, a curious choice, as the histrionic excesses of the sisters, and comic potential, is lost as a result. Jake Wearing is uncertain as The Prince and struggled to match Cinderella’s vocal prowess. The first half lost pace alarmingly before the interval, but was saved by a strong up-tempo start to the second half.
Composer Ivan Scott has done a tremendous job creating an original score and assembling his multi-instrumental rats as a band, occasionally playing alongside backing tracks but also playing without. “Nobody wants to be a Rat” is the stand out ensemble number with a memorable melody, and witty lyric. The absence of musical standards is bold, as the audience has no familiar songs to relate to, but the energy and brio of the musicians carries the day.
The two set design by Nettie Scriven is functional and effective, with good use of trapdoors and the iconic chimney. Tim Heywood has produced a vivid, colourful, ragbag costuming for the rats, although that is sometimes at the expense of their human incarnations.
Underpinning the production are life lessons which endure. No-one likes to be left out of a party, families can be horrible to each other, particularly step sisters and step parents. And we all want to be loved for who we are, not judged by our clothes and social station, a message which resonates at Christmas, and beyond. The curtain call was warmly applauded, with the children in the audience thoroughly enjoying the rats.
Cinderella runs until Saturday 9th January.
This review first appeared in Behind the Arras, abridged, where a comprehensive collection of reviews from the best of Midlands theatre, from a range of reviewers, is available.