Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella – Birmingham Hippodrome

Director and Choreographer: Matthew Bourne

Music: Sergei Prokofiev

Reviewer: John Kennedy

Teenage orphan girl is forced into unpaid domestic labour stripped of her true identity. In desperation to gain elitist societal recognition she solicits supernatural means and compromises her feminist agenda in supine pursuit of approval from a privileged peacock aristocrat with a worrying foot fetish. Will this be a troubling precedent for Matthew Bourne tested against the contemporary rigours of  #MeToo sister solidarity?

This most unlikely ballet-by-stealth love-bomb from shoot-from-the-hip savant of suave, Bourne, must be the near ultimate celebration of poetic motion. And he was there to make sure the specially commissioned sixty-piece orchestral recording of Prokofiev’s score and the hypnotically gifted ensemble take good care of it – as indeed they do.

Ever blowing wind to caution, this oh so debonair, lavish production set in austerity 1940s War-time London is a retro sin-fest of forgivable, gorgeous indulgence. A far too brief encounter of sensuality, it revels in a liquidity of glitter and nostalgic sepia panache. Crescent moon-lit London night-scapes are Blitz shivered framed against blood-red gasometers. Perhaps it is only the dizzying dazzle from costumier Lez Brotherston’s blue serge and sequin-soaked creations that deflect the damnable Gerry bomb-aimers from popping one on St Pauls. Designer, Paul Groothuis has decidedly stern views about that.

This Cinderella so subverts the titular pantomime convention that some in the audience are wondering if someone behind them wasn’t saying they’d come to the wrong show. From the pupae, put-up-on bespectacled secretary, Ashley Shaw’s Cinderella becomes a glittering butterfly, magically brought to metamorphosis by The Angel, Liam Mower. Angel? – Guardian Angel – Fairy Godmother: this is Matthew Bourne, do keep up. Mower sweeps, swanks and glides, a quick-quick/slow silver-messenger steeped in ambiguous charm and danger.

The reimagined/re-imaged Cinderella, meets the once dashing, currently in rehab after crashing, RAF pilot, Harry (Andrew Monaghan). Her enchanted dream dance with his come-alive costume mannequin is clock-work precise and near pendulum perfect. That is until his spasmodic, shell-shocked fractured motions cast a dark shadowed reminder of war’s ever grim presence.

Madelaine Bennet plays Step-Mother, Sybil – aptly named – those who dare seek her council pay the price. Bourne can be a tease when the whim takes him, Harry’s two friends are Tom and Dick (Dominic North/Paris Fitzpatrick). Those boyhood reminiscences of Christmas Day afternoons lying on the floor in front of the fire watching The Great Escape tunnel’s construction are shamelessly indulgent. Bless. As for the Step Sisters/Brothers, they’ve fallen face-first from the ugly tree malignantly and fully malformed: the former, utterly Harpies bizarre.

Our lovers, owners of lonely hearts living on borrowed time, soirée in a Parisian café swathed in a ballroom glitz soon to blitzed to smithereens as gas-masked phantom pilots strut in blood-lit apparition.

This is a Bourne to be wild brilliant indulgence of delight. Barrage-balloons blossom amongst search-lit shrapnel – love’s only hope being that they fall glittering upon a waiting slipper. A cornucopia of visual inebriation – an invitation to a Ball not to be missed. For the ballet uninitiated there’s not a tutu in sight and any grip on reality means it’s time to let go.


Runs until 10 February and on tour | Image: Johan Persson

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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