Thursday, 24 February 2011

Matthew Bourne's Cinderella

Milton Keynes Theatre

22 February 2011

Cinders sets stage alight!

I love Matthew Bourne.

He is probably most famous for subverting the traditional and making dance accessible to those who might think it too high-brow. In his Cinderella, he does all this again in great style.

so, forget Pumpkin coaches, Ugly Sisters, little ponies, and, in my view a rather petulant and shallow heroine who spurns the warm-hearted Buttons for the riches and looks of Prince Charming, Matthew Bourne has set his Cinderella during the London Blitz and in doing so has, unlike pantomime, got a story firmly planted in realism with characters that you care about.

In this production, a grey and dowdy Cinders (Kerry Biggin) is downtrodden not by just two ugly sisters but a plethora of stepbrothers and stepsisters, one of whom seems to be doing a very passable impression of David Walliams as he rather unsettlingly pursues her with his strange obsession with sparkly shoes!

The dysfunctional family are led by Michela Meazza's vampish stepmother. She is made temporarily glamorous by a "fairy godfather" or guardian angel (Christopher Marney) and falls for an RAF pilot (Sam Archer) who gets wounded.

It all takes place on another amazing Lez Brotherstone set full of bombed, skeletal buildings. The scene where the bombing of the Cafe de Paris happens in reverse so that the smoking ruins become, once again, an elegant, glittering dance hall is just brilliant - a little reminiscent of the opening scene of Titanic.

In that hall, the ensemble dance almost as if their lives depend on it, high kicking and falling in wild abandonment.

This evocative setting works brilliantly with the sombre score - which was actually written during the war - and if you think that you can't jive and lindy hop to Prokofiev, then you'd be wrong! The sounds of bombs falling and anti-aircraft fire all add to the atmos.

In the lead roles, Kerry Biggin is touching and vulnerable in glasses and a cardy and Sam Archer is full of both tenderness and panache. Angel Marney is just terrific and joy to watch.

Their post-coital love duet was a new one on me because they hadn't "done the business" in any version that I'd seen before! But it really captures the heightened emotional feeling of a time where people knew that life was precarious and so acted on impulse.

Also, in a new twist, after the ball, instead of wandering the land trying to find a foot that fits the shoe, the airman wanders through a world of women of the night and ne'er do wells searching for his lost love before they are reunited in a hospital.

All in all the magical elements of a familiar story are stripped away, leaving a more believable story that still has that fairytale feel.

Bourne says that the show is a tribute to his dad who survived the Blitz but died in 2010. I like to think it's also a fitting tribute to all those who sat through the nightly assaults in their homes across the UK.

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