Director and Choreographer: Matthew Bourne
Music: Sergei Prokofiev
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
At the heart of any fairy-tale, is love. It’s the basis of almost all narratives, communicated in a plethora of ways, through spoken word, music but most primal through dance. The Grimm brother’s Cinderella is perhaps the crowning pinnacle of the folklore world. Multiple in its variations, adaptations and incarnations, at its heart the stance that through hardship, pain and torment there is a bright prospect. Perhaps this is fitting for a War period interpretation of the tale in Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella – for when we have we required hope more so, than during our darkest hour?
For any familiar with his name; Matthew Bourne is presently one of the finest directorial choreographers working in theatre today. His latest revival of Cinderella, rich in unique movement with concoctions of traditional ballet spliced with war-time swing is mesmerising. The ability to translate a story, as commonplace as the text may be, is awe-inspired. Profusions of emotion communicated through the dance form ballet, facial expressions or the synchronised usage of Prokofiev’s enchanting score. Sharing these allurements are both the costume and set design, which complement the mise-en-scene in both the outlandish to the subtle.
Perhaps the grim(m)est aspect of an otherwise stellar cast, is a slight departure from the paradigm of the original tale. The enticement of an abstract Cinderella is compelling, working richly at times in the harsh realism of the Blitz, an atmosphere in which the whimsical usually shines. An escape: fairy tales seek to enrich our touch on reality by removing us from it, here though, the odd character feels unnecessary. We briefly seem to stray off the beaten path forgetting that this is still meant to be Cinderella. The narrative device performed is spectacular, but at times seems to wander.
One must however, bow to the utterly malevolent Madelaine Brennan as The Step-Mother. A unique modernisation of the wicked spinster brought forward to the caricature cougar – hunting, primal but entirely rambunctious. Balancing her rich, gin-soaked malice is the ethereal presence of the Angel, an abstract concept of the Fairy Godmother. Along with Ashley Shaw (Cinders herself), Angel Liam Mower has a neigh-super human ability to glide, point and articulate so much through movement. The decision to use an Angel (of Death) is multitudes more interesting than the God Mother, presenting concepts of death, fragility and hope.
The company for any ballet deserve rich praise, from their prima to their ensemble. Bourne has strived to ensure this; each character provided an identity. The issue here is our attention is often diverted from the subject at hand, we attach to certain characters and so lose focus from the performance around us. The inclusions of partners for the now five step-siblings, allowing for more humour, diverts a deeper connection with each sibling. Whilst we gain character from each of them, they simultaneously steal each other’s development. The step-sisters, iconic in their folklore position have a terrific start, a dynamic of dominance is established, but we lose a touch of them. The characterisation provided by both Sophia Hurdley and Anjali Mehra, is endearing with much more to give, but they aren’t given the freedom to express this on a cluttered stage.
At the very heart of darkness glints the radiating stars of hope. They keep the shadows of war at bay, captured strikingly in this performance. Too much of an attempt, though, to beguile can end up crowding the senses, our eyes still needing to focus on the story at hand. Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella proves that even in the bleakest blackness, we may wish to give in but that there’s a light which never goes out.
Runs until 9 June 2018 | Image Johann Persson