The wonderful thing about taking on a classic story like Cinderella is the freedom to experiment.
Like with Shakespeare, fairytales survive in theatre because of new and different interpretations created by innovative companies, and this production is a wonderfully entertaining mix of theatrical styles. Although the clever puppetry that recurs throughout the show feels a little laboured in the opening sequence and the first scenes feel uncomfortably close to soap opera, the production soon finds its feet in an exuberant style of physical storytelling with music and dance.
Elements of panto are also inevitable, and become more prominent as the show progresses; from the show’s cross-dressing elements to Phillippe Spall’s formidable Nurse-Ratched-esque evil stepmother, who doubles as both dame and baddie and is booed off at the end, to Mark Kane’s hilarious set-piece comic turn as his gawky Prince leaps into the audience in search of a wife.
Although the production successfully tells the story in a clear and vibrant way, some of the acting felt demonstrative rather than organic. The style of the piece calls for physical, larger-than-life performances, but it is still important to shore this up with a strong connection to the text, which felt slightly lacking in several places.
The adjustments and narrative decisions taken by dramaturg Adam Peck kept the production exciting and fresh. The handsome and eligible Prince Charming of the fairytale is normalised into a geeky birdwatcher, and this hobby, shared by Cinderella, provides a more plausible basis for a marriage than the single dance at the ball that we have in the original story. Peck has also kept some of the more gruesome parts of the story that were Disneyed out, which lends a sharper edge to a production that might otherwise stray into the saccharine.
The crucial ‘fairy godmother’ moment feels slightly underplayed, but is handled in an innovative and interesting new way
A final mention must be made of the music, directed and composed by Benji Bower. The two musicians presided over a motley junk shop of instruments on a platform at the back of the stage throughout the show, and their wonderful jazzy backings, interludes and sound effects sometimes even upstaged the action for me.
The band co-operated perfectly with the performers, helping them to achieve exactly the right moods while retaining a distinctive vintage sound, right from the opening sequence to the perfect ‘ergh!’ from one audience member during the final onstage kiss.