Devised by: The Company
Revival Director: Chris Pirie
Reviewer: Chris Oldham
Gearing up for a recently extended run into the New Year, Cinderella: A Fairytale returns to the Tobacco Factory theatre this Christmas for the first time since its première back in 2011.
Taking the Grimm Brothers’ version of the well-known fairytale as its template, it tells the story of Ella, who after the death of her father is forced to live with her wicked stepmother deep in the woods. Ella loves birds and dancing but is forced to cook and clean and keep the house spotless while her stepbrother and sister torment her. Enter the gawky Prince, who invites her to the ball that his mother the Queen is throwing in his honour, and…well, you know the rest.
Those seeking a completely child-friendly experience might want to take heed of the age recommendation of six-plus here. While there are plenty of visuals and “boo, hiss” villains to keep kids occupied, the somewhat shifting tone feels like this is largely one for the grown-ups.
Despite the audience almost completely surrounding the stage, the five-strong cast has plenty of room to work with, charging in and out of every entrance and exit and juggling their roles – and costume changes – with energy to spare.
As Stepmother, Craig Edwards is the monstrous baddie, quietly building the madness as he goes. And while Dorian Simpson’s Stepbrother begins as something of a sociopath, he becomes an endearingly sympathetic champion for Ella once he starts to break out of his mother’s and sister’s shadows. Rounding out the family, Lucy Tuck is always a comedic treat,though it’s her criminally brief secondary role as the Queen over her primary character of the Stepsister that brings with it some of the funniest moments of the evening.
Despite the determination of her family to keep Ella down, this is at its heart a story about love. Isabella Marshall plays the plucky but downtrodden heroine watched over by the magical – and incredibly handy – birds of the forest. Marshall does a fine job of being gutsy without being petulant, while Joey Hickman proves a sweet foil as the bumbling, inexperienced, bird-spotting Prince who just wants to know what it’s like to love someone.
Visually, Katie Sykes’ set is striking, conjuring up a land with plenty of hidden treasures. A plain, simple stage is bolstered by abstract wooden trees, strings of hanging lanterns, and a bandstand that looks like it’s been carved out of the trunk of a great oak, upon which musicians Brian Hargreaves and Alex Heane sit surrounded by a forest of instruments, presided over by a huge bass drum lit up like the moon. Composer Benji Bower’s work is not just a few flourishes here and there either, but a full-on score, rich with atmosphere, emotion, and finely-pitched effects.
After a rather slow first act allowing time for the story to build, the pace picks up after the interval as things become a little more hands on. There’s suddenly a slew of audience interaction and participation, perhaps wisely saved for when the crowd is feeling a little more comfortable in their surroundings.
Combining pantomime, puppetry, music, and dance, there’s something enchanting about Cinderella: A Fairytale, making it a charming addition to Bristol’s theatrical line-up this festive season. Just watch out for the flying toes.
Runs until 22 January 2017 | Image: Farrows Creative