Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella – Milton Keynes Theatre

Director and Choreographer: Matthew Bourne

Music: Sergei Prokofiev

Reviewer: Maggie Constable

Always popular at Milton Keynes theatre, Matthew Bourne and his New Adventures company make their annual visit this week with the revisioned Cinderella, first seen on U.K stages just over 20 years ago.

For those who have not seen Bourne’s Cinderella, this is not the classic fairytale, even if the underlying story and themes remain the same. We are in London during World War 2 with bombs shattering buildings and lives.

After a projected Pathé news reel from the 1940s, the tale begins pretty conventionally in a large, drab house with bespectacled Cinders being used and maltreated by a whole host of weird and wonderful siblings, including her step-sisters and step-mother. The magic commences in the form of The Angel, rather than the Fairy Godmother, who, in his metallic white suit, slithers down the mantelpiece to deliver a special, albeit wounded, gift for our damsel: an RAF pilot, her Prince.

Act 1 is full of some wonderful comic moments and mime as the family receives the invitations to the ball with one wild brother whizzing around with a toy plane, one character with a shoe fetish and, to cap it all, Madelaine Brennan’s superb step-mother Sybil, the lush.  She struts around clutching her bottle, a vicious look permanently grafted to her face. The step-sisters are similarly nasty but definitely not ugly. Once left alone Cinders is visited by The Angel. Paris Fitzpatrick has an amazing presence and stature as said character. His movements and extensions, particularly of the hands, are dynamic and evocative. Soon after the pilot is sent on his way, we are treated to ensemble dances in which white figures with masks leap around the stage canine-like followed by ARP wardens who lead us convincingly into a menacing air raid.

In Act 2 we are at the damaged Café de Paris (which actually was bombed in 1941 in the Blitz ). The Angel reconstructs the ballroom with his powers much as he is able to bring all the people to life. The use of the colour red here really contrasts the destruction of war against the glitz of the decor and the costumes.

As Cinderella descends the sparkling stairway we sense the emotion as she searches for her beloved Harry. Their duet is mesmerising. Cordelia Braithewaite, in the eponymous role, brings about Cinderella’s considerable transition so delicately and subtly. The couple appearsis to be oblivious to all around them.

RAF pilot Harry is brought to us by Will Bozier who is at his best dancing their duet in the bedroom scene which is beautifully enhanced by Neil Austin’s very atmospheric lighting. Bozier truly gives us the passion and the emotion of the character here and when he searches for Cinders, slipper in hand later on.

The cast is well used, as ever in Bourne productions, and nowhere better than in the drunken dance at the end of the ball, with a final ‘hic’ to boot.

Themes of death and time pervade this act as The Angel indicates the ticking clock (some of the dancers moving cleverly like clocks) and bombs blast again. Prokofiev’s moving score is so apt, adding to the feelings of mortality and urgency.

In what ensues there is forever a question as to what is dream or unconsciousness and what is reality. The movement back and forwards through time adds to this effect.

And so we are taken inexorably to the climax of our story in Act 3 but first, there is another Duncan Maclean Pathé Reel projection reminding us of the power and devastation of war. Another amazing setting from Lez Brotherston shows us the underground from various angles as Harry literally fights his way through to find the owner of the slipper, suffering trials and tribulations with a range of cleverly-acted characters. Although this is a wildly different version of the well-known tale the ending is still appropriately romantic and a quasi-finale, after rapturous applause, allows the audience to sing and clap along to Pennsylvania 65000 as the whole cast boogies on 1940s style.

Bourne and his New Adventures company never disappoint and tonight’s show is no exception.

Runs until 17 February 2018 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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