Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Theatre Review: Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella'

Review by Terry Wills

Think of Cinderella and one immediately conjurs up thoughts of the much loved traditional fairy story.

Pretty girl, downtrodden and bullied by her wicked stepmother and two stepsisters who make her life utterly miserable until they are thwarted due to the intervention of Cinderella's Fairy Godmother.

She magically appears to Cinderella and inevitably after a series of adventures, Cinder's meets and marries her one true love and they live happily ever after.

That's the traditional tale but as this was another brilliant production from Matthew Bourne, who specialises in interpreting and adapting traditional stories in his very unique manner, it came as no surprise that his latest offering again demonstrated that as a producer / choreographer, he has no equal in foresight or ability, to bring such tales to life as a 'modern day' story.

It's set in 1940's London. Air raids are a nightly feature. The average civilian never knowing if this could be their last day alive due to unrelenting air raids by the German Luftwaffa.

The relentless bombing campaign is aimed at killing as many ordinary citizens as possible. In the process believing and hoping that this will weaken their resolve not to 'give in' to the dastardly Germans.

The story is told over three acts and for those that lived and experienced the horrors of World War Two, and there were many in the audience that did, it would have rekindled disturbing memories of those dark days.

The first act sees the curtain rise on a black and white 'Pathe Newsreel' in a 'Picture House' .Showing people hurrying to find shelter before the carnage begins.The film and soundtrack seeing them scurrying hopefully to safety but even that could rely more on luck than judgement.

It moves on to the the family house where Cinderella is tormented by stepmother Sybil and stepsisters, Irene and Vivien who make it plain that they hold her in contempt. Moving on to a blackout where Cinderella meets Harry an RAF pilot.

They immediately fall in love as the bombing begins and amid the ensuing panic they're inevitably split up. The only thing a wounded Harry can find is a left behind silver slipper. He has no alternative other than to search for the owner and if successful will ensure a loving reunion and a fairy tale happy ending.

But before that we're shown death and destruction on a grand scale, via wonderful artistic dancing. A bomb hits 'The Cafe' de Paris dance hall (as it did in real life) maiming and killing people that had little or no chance of survival.

And in this context the set is very graphic. Blood stained bodies, images of destruction, allied by wonderful lighting, and music by composer Serge Prokofiev.

I wasn't familiar with the music but even so Bourne's wonderful choreography dovetailed perfectly into the scenes whether those of a light note or in the all so powerful story telling areas.

The final scenes incorporate movement around the streets of London, the Underground system, the Thames embankmant, a convalescence home and Paddington Station where Cinderella, who had also been injured, is eventually reunited with Harry.

A sensitive final scene and the happy couple board a train (a very impressive set as are all of them by Lez Brotherton) where they celebrate their reinion to start a 'Happy ever After' scenario.

The principle roles are taken by Kerry Biggins (Cinderella), Sam Archer (Harry) and Christopher Marney. He dances the role of 'The Angel' as opposed to a traditional recognised Prince Charming.

Each of them portray modern ballet dancing of the highest quality, as do all the cast members, as they swirl around the the stage in perfect unison.


Bourne's previous productions have been of a similiar high quality. 'Car Men'-Swan Lake' and 'Nutcracker' -,all so very enjoyable in bringing humour to the fore.

'Cinderella, while having flashes of humour, plainly depicts the other side of a war and congratulations have to go to everyone connected with his latest powerful production.

Matthew Bournes's company are perfectly named 'New Invention' -and never was a title so appropiate.

They're a touring dance company, and for that alone the Birmingham Hippodrom are fortunate that all of his new productions will create so much interest that it will nevitably lead to 'Sold Out' Ticket notices posted for most performances.

In his programme notes Matthew tells the reasons why he took the decision to set and adapt Cinderella back in War torn London.

These are many and varied but for me one stood out; "I dedicate this piece to my dad, Jim Bourne (1932-2010), who was there and lived to tell the tale"

Well although I didn't live in London during the 1940's (as a very young boy that lived and experienced the terror of spending so many nights in a Smethwick Air Raid shelter) I can only echo these sentiments.

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