Over a decade ago I was a balletphobic theatre goer. Traditional ballet and dance simply did not connect with me. I had tried, and failed, or maybe the shows had failed? Then I went to see Sir Mathew Bourne’s “Swan Lake” and everything changed. Bourne, and his New Adventures Dance Company, showed me what was possible with the form. I have devoured his productions ever since, although this was my first “Cinderella”, which was premiered some twenty years ago.
Bourne’s sets invariably impress, this is no exception. We are taken inside a monochrome domestic interior, dazzled by the Café de Paris, whisked down into the London Underground, along the Thames Embankment, before saying farewell at Paddington Station, complete with train. Wartime in 1940’s London is atmospherically conjured, a triumph for designer and costumier Lez Brotherston. The lighting is astonishing, and hugely demanding. Searchlights, flames and bomb bursts are demanded for the action scenes, show lighting for the Café de Paris, then there are the underground and over ground station scenes, lighting designer Neil Austin is equal to every challenge.
Prokofiev’s score never fails to bewitch and beguile, yet somehow, along with the ballet, we are offered swing, jive and a conga. It was written during the Second World War, premiered in 1945.Thus a setting during the War is absolutely in sympathy with its genesis. The music is rich and sweeping, tender and poignant. You could be listening to a soundtrack of a period film, a sensation encouraged by the use of contemporary projected Pathe News clips. Everyone is dancing, with each other, to each other, and to survive.
Most of the men are in uniform. The women wear flowing skirts and dresses of the 1940’s era and offer a perfect stylistic fit for ballet, elegantly flourishing to each ballerina’s movement.
The pivotal pairing is Cinderella and the evil Stepmother. The latter is played by Madelaine Brennan, who is satisfyingly sassy and evil, the former by Ashley Shaw, in turns mousey, sexy and vulnerable. Her entrance in the Second Act, introduced by the fairy godfather before she tiptoes down the staircase of the Cafe de Paris is pure Hollywood kitsch, her solo dances in a beautiful white ballgown were exquisite perfection. They were danced with the assurance of someone who knows that they are a star, but executed with the panache and chutzpah of someone who enjoys showing why.
The Café itself is wonderfully recreated, destroyed, then recreated again in spectacular fashion. Local boy Andrew Monaghan excels as raffish RAF pilot Harry, dashing, daring and wholly believable as Cinderella’s love interest. Stephanie Billers and Nicole Kabera play the step-sisters as fairly straight forwards bitches, the comedy element falling to step- brothers Dan Wright and Stephen Murray. That one has a foot fetish, is a neat idea for a story about a lost shoe.
The production is lavish in every department, not least in the cast, with over twenty named dancers, and many supporting players too. Ballet involves telling a story without words, great dance evokes such emotion that words become superfluous. This production easily falls into the latter category. The set, costumes, production values, dancing and realisation of the narrative are all of the highest order. Sir Mathew Bourne was present for this opening night, his attendance a measure of his attention to detail and commitment to his productions. I spoke to him briefly, his concern that I, and everyone else, should enjoy the show. We did.The standing ovation at the shows close was richly deserved.
Runs until Sat 10th and continues on nationwide tour.