Wednesday, 29 December 2010

'Cinderella' at Sadlers Wells

My pre-Christmas treat was to see Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella' at Sadlers Wells. Seeing one of Matthew's productions has now become a firm Christmas tradition, heading up to Sadlers Wells to inspect the Christmas tree and mingle in the always over-crowded foyer bar, wondering what sights were ahead of us and whether it would hold the imperceptible magic of his other Christmas treats.

The performance starts with the cast watching a short newsreel about the London blitz that places the show in time and space and then we shift to the house where a grey and speccy Cinderella lives with her family, disabled dad, odd collection of siblings and the ultimate Cruella De Ville step-mother. The first act is an extended introduction to the characters through dance and a few small props, and ending with the family all going to a ball at the Cafe De Paris except for poor little Cinders. Until her guardian angel intervenes.

The second act opens in a blitzed Cafe De Paris, with people and tables strewn across the stage in the bombed out wreckage of the Cafe, and then the angel dances back time and the glitzy Cafe takes shape before us and the colour explodes to wipe away the grey drabness of the first act. A glammed-up Cinders and her RAF pilot dance the night away until Cinders must rush off and is caught in the blitz, picked up by first aid workers and leaves a shiny glass slipper behind.

The third act tells the tale of the wounded RAF pilot searching for his Cinders in bombed out London, through the rent boys and prostitutes haunting Oxford Circus tube station and the toughs and posh people down on the Embankment. Eventually he ends up being taken to the same hospital as the now grey again Cinders. The nasty step-mother tries to kill Cinders for some reason, is caught and led off, the pilot and Cinders are reunited, get married and say farewell to her family in a train station in a small tribute to 'Brief Encounter'. It is also at the train station that the angel finds his next charge, another lonely young woman to help.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this show. The chronology was a bit odd but it's the characterisation that I love. The brother with the shoe fetish going round trying to sniff ladies shoes, the other brother who's gay and meets a random soldier in the Cafe who turns out to be Mr Right that he then says goodbye to at the final railway station scene, the haughty and nasty step-mother (boo!), the soldier coming down the steps in the Cafe doing up his flies, the menacing toughs on the Embankment - great story-telling through dance. I wasn't too engaged by Cinders and her pilot since you know what's going to happen to them, it was the minor characters I watched. It was also touching to see the woman at the train station waiting for her love who never arrives and she wanders off to be found sitting alone at a table at the end when the angel walks up to her and touches her shoulder and you know that a new story is about to begin as the lights go down.

It's the little touches that Matthew Bourne devises that I love and that pull at the heart strings or the comedy bone, like the Swan and his Prince looking through the window at the end of 'Swan Lake' or the characters going round licking each other in 'Nutcracker'. His mass dance scenes are excellent, with every couple dancing their own dance within the whole rather than a load of people doing exactly the same dance, each having their own characters and movements. And, as has happened a couple of times before, Mr Bourne was out in the foyer chatting to friends and supporters as the audience left at the end of the show.

There's something rather magical about walking up to the Angel tube station after seeing a Matthew Bourne production on a freezing winter's night with Christmas lights in the air, speculating on what happens next in the world I've just glimpsed and why this character did this and that character did that, and then the long ride home mulling it all over. That means it must be Christmas...

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