Matthew Bourne completely reinvents the classic fairytale of Cinderella in his highly-acclaimed dance production, currently in Cardiff until Saturday.
A love story set in the midst of 1940s London and the Second World War, Bourne’s Cinderella has been revived and reimagined 20 years after it was first staged in 1997 to critical and audience acclaim.
I took my two eldest children – eight year old Little Miss E, who has been ballet dancing since she was three, and six and a half year old Little Man O – to see the show at Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre last night for the first of seven performances in a five-day run as part of its UK tour.
As you would expect from the man behind the all-male Swan Lake and a ballet version of Edward Scissorhands, this is nothing like the Cinderella most of us know.
Yes, we have a cruel step-mother and step-sisters, the transformation of a mistreated servant girl into the stunning belle of the ball, a clock striking midnight and a missing shoe. But we also have taunting step-brothers, a male guardian angel rather than a fairy godmother, a disorientated and injured pilot instead of a prince, the streets of war-torn London and a night club blown up in the Blitz.
Bourne uses Prokoviev’s classic three-act score adapted at times to fit the story. Interestingly, it was the fact this famous music was composed during the Second World War that inspired the production. As Bourne says in the programme notes, “Was this dark period in our history, somehow captured within the music? I felt that it was, and the more I delved into the Cinderella story, it seemed to work so well in the wartime setting. Darkly romantic in tone, it speaks of a period when time was everything, love was found and lost suddenly and the world danced as if there was no tomorrow.”
The set and costumes are almost entirely black, grey and white, beautifully evoking old movies of the era. The final scene at Paddington Station is reminiscent of Brief Encounter; while Bourne talks in the programme notes about how he was inspired by the 1946 film A Matter of Life and Death, in which an RAF pilot miraculously survives when his plane crashes into the sea and is guided by a male guardian angel.
The lighting depicts flashes of colour with occasional bursts of colour in the set. The burning flames following the bomb and the sheets of rain lashing down on London are particularly effective. But against the monochrome background it is left to the dancing and movement to tell the story.
There’s a real dream-like quality to the production – for example when Cinderella dances with a mannequin bust but imagines it is her soldier love. We also see it later in the cleverly-executed Act II Blitz scene at the Café de Paris – based on the real events of 8 March 1941 where nearly 100 dancing couples, cabaret artistes and staff were killed or seriously injured. Under the watchful eye of the Angel, the damage is reversed, the set reconstructs itself, and the ghostly couples dance once more.
The scenes in which the dancers of Bourne’s New Adventure’s troupe dance in perfectly choreographed unison – in the club; on the streets of London; and in the family home – were some of my favourites. There are also some beautiful moments between Cinderella (Ashley Shaw) and Harry the pilot (played tonight by Will Bozier).
But it is Liam Mower as the Angel who leads the show, effortlessly gliding around the stage in a silvery-white suit with intrigue and an otherworldly quality. He is captivating to watch. Anjali Mehra as Sybil the glamorous but drunken stepmother is hilarious at times, channelling Joan Crawford, Cruella De Vil and Miss Hannigan from Annie.
The official age guidance for Cinderella is five plus with no admittance to under twos. My eight year old and six and a half year old were just about the right age to begin to appreciate the show – they thought it was incredible although they got a little confused by the plot at times. I’d told them what to expect beforehand, including watching the trailer, and they already know a lot about the Second World War. However I can imagine for some children the subject matter may have been a shock if they were expected a Disney-fied version of the classic tale or tutu-wearing ballerinas.
Overall though, Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella is a beautifully thought-provoking evocation of love lost and found in a time of war and destruction. It’s sad at times; humorous at others; and will stay with you long after the final curtain has closed.
Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella is at Wales Millennium Centre until Saturday. See the website for details or call the box office on 029 2063 6464.
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