New Take on Classic Cinderella Tale
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REVIEW: Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella – The Mayflower –
Looks like it’s five stars yet again for Matthew, Ashley and company – by Beccy Conway
Images: Hugo Glendinning (profiles) and Johan Persson (production)
Every springtime for the past few years, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company has returned to The Mayflower with another production from their infamous cannon. Known for his penchant for reimaging tradition ballets, this year’s offering by Bourne is his production of Cinderella, using Sergei Prokofiev’s 1946 score. Originally created in 1997, this production is an all-new version, touring the UK and internationally until March 2019.
The backdrop for this reimagined fairy tale is the Second World War, in the throes of the London Blitz. Whilst his ballet was premiered in 1946, Prokofiev composed the piece during the war. In order to explore the influences of wartime on Prokofiev’s composition, Bourne set about transferring the classic story to the thrill and turmoil of 1940s London. His production in three Acts tells the story of the brief, passionate meeting of Cinderella and Harry, a young RAF pilot, during one night when they fall in love but find themselves dramatically separated by the destruction of the bombing.
As we take our seats we hear the sounds of planes soaring overhead, coupled with the screams of bombs dropping and we’re immediately transported to wartime London. The music, and the sound effects designed by Paul Groothuis, are played in surround sound using a recording by an 82-piece orchestra to create a truly cinematic atmosphere.
1940s cinema was integral to Bourne’s choreography for Cinderella. He cites movie A Matter of Life and Death (1946) by Powell and Pressburger as his “guiding light” in creating the story and the character of the Angel, danced by Liam Mower, who began his career at age eleven as one of the original cast of Billy Elliot. A beacon of light for downtrodden Cinderella, the Angel guides her with the air of a puppet master, until she is free from her oppressive stepmother.
Actress Joan Crawford was the inspiration for the glamourous social-climbing stepmother, Sybil (Madelaine Brennan), and there are nods throughout the piece to classic movies such as the 1945 film Brief Encounter.
Ashley Shaw is beguiling as ever in the role of Cinderella, which she shares with Cordelia Braithwaite. A member of New Adventures since 2009, Shaw is no stranger to the challenges of performing the title role, having most recently danced the principal role of Vicky Page in the world premiere of The Red Shoes in 2016/2017, to wide critical acclaim. She is masterful in her ability to transform from shy, mistreated girl to dazzling debutant at the Café de Paris, in a role which requires just as much acting skill as it does dance.
There is beauty in centring the adapted Ball scene at the Café de Paris. During the war, when many major British cities suffered nightly bombardment from the skies, below the surface there was a revolution taking place. The threat of danger caused people to live life without caution, to go out dancing and live frivolously, and the scene in the subterranean nightclub perfectly captures the sense of urgency people must have felt.
The Olivier-award-winning staging and costumes by Lez Brotherston are phenomenal. Costumes are all shades of grey and black, cleverly denoting the mandatory blackouts enforced at night.
We’re taken to a wide variety of locations including the shady platform of a London Underground station and the destruction of the Blitz is ever-present in the stage’s jagged wings, made up of ruinous brick walls. The finale of Act II sees the demolishing of the Café de Paris, a scene based on the true events of 8th March 1941 when Leicester Square was bombed and thirty-four people inside the nightclub were killed. The design ingenuity behind the set dynamically collapsing is mindboggling, with myself and many around me voicing that we wished we could see it happen again.
As with all Bourne productions, there is an underlying darkness to this tale. PTSD in servicemen and women is explored in the character of Harry, as he finds himself stumbling injured around London after the bombardment. Andrew Monaghan’s portrayal of Harry’s disorientation and vulnerability is heart-breaking, and when he is brought to hospital and subjected to electroshock therapy we’re reminded of the horror of those times, something often masked by the perceived glamour of the era.
Bourne fans will be delighted to learn that his ground-breaking seminal production of Swan Lake returns to Southampton in February 2019. In the meantime, there are a few tickets left for the fabulous Cinderella, including Thursday and Saturday matinees, but they’re selling fast so snap up yours while you can. Cinderella runs at the Mayflower until Saturday 31st March, before continuing its tour of the UK at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.