Theatre Review: Matthew Bourne's Cinderella @ The Bristol Hippodrome
by Polly Hember

Liam Mower 'The Angel - Cinderella's Fairy Godfather' and Ashley Shaw 'Cinderella' .| Photo by Johan Persson

Set in the blitz, Matthew Bourne’s new ballet Cinderella, is a complete triumph. Walking the thin line between deathly despair and glitterball gaiety, Bourne balances whimsy and heavy emotion perfectly. When the clock strikes twelve, it’s not just Cinderella that falls to pieces, but the entire stage in an earth-shattering bombing.

Composed during The Second World War, Prokofiev’s score is darkly romantic and surprisingly sombre for all its fairy tale magic. Bourne writes that he fell in love with the music watching Frederick Ashton’s version of Cinderella and was inspired by the connection between the score and the time in which it was written, feeling that the music captured much of the fatalism and dread alongside the carpe diem impulse to live life to the fullest, dancing away while enemy planes flying overhead each night.

Prokofiev’s score and Bourne’s direction and choreography work perfectly, exploring the morose and the romantic with glitz, glamour and heavy homages to old Hollywood. Cinderella captures the dark anxiety of the fairy tale set in our “darkest hour”, and still manages to be as uplifting, dazzling and heart warming as its distant Disney cousin.

The dancing is sublime; contemporary ballet is executed to perfection as various subplots and hilarious characters are introduced, spinning round the central plot. Much of the dance seems to be about finding connection with their partners. This becomes desperate at times, most notably in the ‘morning after’ scene with Cinderella and Harry. Arms and extended throughout the ballet, moving swiftly and sharply, as if mirroring the ticking clock hands as time runs out, or else reminding us of the dangerous wings of the armed aeroplanes, sweeping above their heads and pictured in the background of ‘The Blackout’ scene.

"Cinderella captures the dark anxiety of the fairy tale set in our 'darkest hour', and still manages to be as uplifting, dazzling and heart warming as its distant Disney cousin."

Ashley Shaw danced a fantastic Cinderella, who appears mousy and quiet at the start in dreary grey clothes and glasses, but incredibly strong and brave as she leaves the house in the middle of an air raid. Living in a house with a motley collection of eccentric stepsisters and brothers, one of which appears to have a foot fetish, transfixed by Cinderella’s glittery shoes. Madelaine Brennan is a brilliantly sultry and vampy stepmother, dancing beautifully and finding humour in her facial expressions when she downs a glass of champagne or tries to convince Harry in to having one more dance with her. Cinderella’s prince is a wounded pilot, Harry. Played by a dashing Dominic North, he dances brilliantly, and is very convincing in his desperate search for Cinderella after the bomb hits.

Our Fairy God Mother is a played by Liam Mower, and it the most beautiful Bourne-addition to this modern interpretation. Less of a fairy godmother, he is cast as ‘The Angel’, in a white silky satin suit and a platinum blonde wig. Graceful, elegant and enigmatic, Mower presents a whimsical and otherworldly angel who beautifully contrasts the chaotic destruction of war. Fantastically dreamy, Cinderella’s pumpkin is a fabulous white motorbike and sidecar. He inhabits a space that is part dream, part nightmare, granting all of Cinderella’s wishes and urging her to hold Harry’s hand in a beautiful puppetry dance, performed in soft, fluid movements but is ultimately unable to wish away the terror of war.

The scene that opens the second act will stay with me forever. Pictured is the destroyed Café de Paris nightclub; bodies, tables and chairs are strewn over the floor, the ceiling is caved in, debris is everywhere. The Angel enters, and we see time and destruction rewind and repair in a beautiful and transfixing dance. As the Angel pirouettes, the dancers spin and slowly stand upright, the scenery heals itself. The maimed stairway still shows the terrible bomb blasts throughout the ball scenes, reminding us that danger is nearby and fast encroaching, and the lovers Cinderella and Harry are separated in the chaos of an attack at the end of this second act.

A beautiful and moving version of Cinderella that captures the glamour and shimmering escapism of old Hollywood alongside the dread of WW2. Bourne extricates the key themes in the classic Cinderella tale with phenomenal choreography, jovial characters and subplots and by setting it during the blitz, he allows us to look on a time where people fell in love quickly with a romantic yet terrifying sense that time is running out. In Bourne’s words, ‘the world danced as if there was no tomorrow’. Hugely enjoyable, visually superb and dramatically engaging; Bourne’s Cinderella really must be the world’s most enjoyable ballet.

Cinderella runs at The Bristol Hippodrome until 24 March 2018. Buy tickets here

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