Cinderella is set in the Blitz of London in 1940 and this is not a random choice, it is driven by its musical score. The ballet is set to the music of Prokofiev and whilst Cinderella is composed in the style of the Tchaikovsky ballets, this score is a 20th century version, written during the 2nd World War. It is darker and more powerful, foreboding and lurks menacingly beneath the fairytale glitter. The music has a distinct heartbeat of the dramatic with heartfelt emotion. Bourne has used this to create something that is unique - a ballet that can juxtapose and intrinsically weave simultaneously, Hollywood glamour with 'Our Darkest Hour' resulting in a more authentic depiction of the original fairy tales. Cruelty, humour, joy, morals and horror frame this glorious ballet. The iconic 'Ball' scene is set and based around the bombing and carnage of the 'Cafe de Paris' in London's Soho during the Blitz. The location works perfectly and adds a realism to the Cinderella story that I have not felt before.
The set is a sight to behold, designed by Lez Brotherston, the Three Act ballet's opening set is a Living Room. It is lavish, intricate, grandiose and soaring yet, I feel a little too large for a ballet as is almost becomes a distraction from the storyline. The Ugly sisters sit around, as do the rest of the family including the glorious Sybil, the Stepmother performed by Madelaine Brennan. A throwback to the classic silver screen era is evident and Brennan had more than a hint of the legend Joan Crawford about her persona. Act Two takes us to the spectacular Ball (Cafe de Paris), which we see after the bombing and is then magically restored as Cinderella's dream/ nightmare is granted by the Fairy Mother. In true 'Bourne' style, this usually female figure is transposed into a male, like his previous character the Swan Queen. This Fairy Godfather, Liam Mower, drives a white motorbike and sidecar and is dressed in silvery white, he is reminiscent of Fred Astaire's dancing angels in films of the era. Mower gives a strong and commanding performance. Act Three begins on the Embankment and the seedy Underground before we are transported to the hospital and then railway station. We see a train that moves and adds to the magic of the production.
The delightful Ashley Shaw's bespectacled Cinderella is suitably dowdy in her grey pleated skirt and cardigan, however, she was not without character and is highly comedic particularly as she waltzed with a tailor's shop dummy. Shaw flits from to glee to sadness with consummate ease and is magnetic to watch. Cinderella's Prince Charming, Harry the RAF Pilot (Andrew, Monaghan) is equally impressive in his more suave persona at the ball and in his desperate state as he searches for his missing love. Once Cinderella and Harry find each other again, the Pas de Deux is exquisite and something I was waiting to see. The sheer joy and apprehension of the pair is almost audible to the audience, I was not disappointed, it was truly beautiful.
The entire production have a very cinematic feel, like watching an old black and white movie. Surround sound adds to the realism of the Air Raid Sirens and bombing and fully immerses the audience in the experience. The costumes are entirely hues of black and white and both Act 1 and 3 opens with Pathe News extracts - 'What to do in a Raid ' and 'Biggest Blitz in history'. It would appear Bourne has been heavily influenced by movies such as ‘Brief Encounter' and 'Waterloo Bridge' and homage to these and others can be seen.
I highly recommend you seek out this production, whether you are a ballet novice or a connoisseur of the art form, it is presently touring the UK. Matthew Bourne's productions are always innovative, full of magic and spectacle and the 2017 Cinderella production has glamour and guts galore.
Reviewer: Tracey Bell
Reviewed: 15th May 2018
North West End Rating: ★★★★★