Matthew Bourne, master of the classical ballet reimagining, has an absolute ball with Cinderella. The archetypal rags-to-riches tale is richly and wittily transformed into a wartime romance with Prokofiev’s euphonious score, Lez Brotherston’s beautiful forties-feeling costumes and cinematic sets, and choreography that captures the glitz, glamour, and gloom of a Blitz-bound fairy tale.
The charm of this Cinderella is in the transformation: an unloved Cinders is whisked away to a ball, but it’s in a rocking café, not a royal castle, underneath the war-torn streets of a bombed-out London, and it’s a pilot, not a prince, she falls in love with. At the ball they dance jazz and jitterbugs as well as waltz, and it’s a fairy godfather in a white silk suit that whisks Cinderella away in a sidecar. As Cinderella, Ashley Shaw’s playful pas de deux with a dummy – in place of dancing with her broom in the ballet – is delightful, and her dream, and dummy, blossom into life as Dominic North’s dashing pilot in an inspired act to introduce the prince before the ball.
The setting for the ball is based on a real-life cabaret bombing during the Blitz, each act prefaced by Pathé projections with real images of air raids, and the drama of Bourne’s Cinderella makes the stakes much higher than being home before the clock strikes twelve: Lez Brotherston’s ballroom – or cabaret bar – is obliterated by bombs at the beginning of Act II, but Liam Mower’s light-footed fairy godfather breathes life back into it. With Britain’s darkest hour as the backdrop, Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella is dark and dramatic as well as dreamlike, with Cinders and her pilot prince’s pas de deux in his lodgings, beautifully lit by Neil Austin’s design, a tender tumult of lifts and embraces imbued with so much more lust and longing because of the doom that may await them.
Other than the incomparable direction and design, the dramatic accomplishments of Cinderella are in the performances of New Adventures’ dance-actors: each character, from Andrew Monaghan’s boyfriend-fancying, bum-fondling brother to Dan Wright’s gawky, glasses-wearing geek with a foot-fetish, is well-developed and wonderfully funny. Madelaine Brennan’s evil stepmother Sybil is deliciously devious with enviable extensions, Will Bozier and Edwin Ray’s high-flying heroes fly high, and Liam Mower’s fairy godfather’s leaps and lines are exceptional, but all dancers are on fine form. Ashley Shaw and Dominic North are a perfect pair as Cinders and her pilot prince, with their pas de deux passionate and playful and effortlessly performed.
Underscored by Prokofiev’s magical and melancholy music, Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella mixes the magic of the fairy tale and the dramatic milieu of wartime Britain perfectly in a delicately funny, deeply touching, and endearingly danced production: Cinderella shall go to the ball, even in the Blitz.
Written by @_leahtozer