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Cinderella

Music by Sergey Prokofiev, choreography by Frederick Ashton
Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House
(2010)

Royal Ballet Cinderella production photo

Mea culpa. The second act is best; but that is no excuse for arriving late. I thought the performance began at 7.30. It began at 7.00. I was mortified. The Royal Opera House, quite rightly, does not allow latecomers in until the interval. I watched the first act with 25 other latecomers on a screen in the Crush Bar.

Cinderella is no longer the most popular pantomime (Aladdin is) but the idea of a commoner marrying a prince continues to appeal and has even been given a fillip by Willy and Katie

Frederick Ashton's version, the first full length British ballet, premiered at the Royal Opera House in 1948 at Christmas, is a mixture of classic lyrical and crude pantomime.

The high spots in Act 2 are Cinderella's entrance down the stairs en pointe, looking straight ahead, and the duet with the Prince which follows. Marianela Nunez is a radiant belle of the ball, sharply defined. Rupert Pennefather's Prince is somewhat understated. Paul Kay's Jester is sprightly.

Prokofiev's music for the striking of the clock at midnight is awesome. Act 3 is always an anti-climax. There is so little to it that the interval could be scrapped.

The Ugly Sisters made their first appearance in Rossini's Cinderella in 1817 and they weren't ugly; they weren't ugly until the master punster H J Byron (synonymous with Victorian pantomime) made them ugly in his fairy burlesque extravaganza in 1860.

Ashton, who claimed he had never seen a pantomime (a likely story!) had originally wanted the sisters to be played by women and not men in drag; but he changed his mind and cast Robert Helpmann and himself in the roles. The result was that he upstaged everybody and hi-jacked the ballet

Ashton's pathetic, much-bullied sister is one of the 20th century's definitive performances, as definitive as Edith Evans's Lady Bracknell and Laurence Olivier's Richard III. It has been an impossible act to follow ever since.

A major problem is the Ugly Sisters are just not funny enough and so much of what they actually do is dire and repetitive. Choreography and business need a complete rethink. Gary Avis, as the tall and bossy sister, has potential.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch