Matthew Bourne
New Adventures
Sheffield Lyceum

Andrew Monaghan as Harry, Ashley Shaw as Cinderella and the Company Credit: Joan Persson

Matthew Bourne’s reinterpretation of Cinderella sets the story in the London Blitz of 1940. Attracted by the music of Prokofiev’s version of the tale, which was written during the Second World War, Bourne realised the dramatic potential of transferring the action to a war setting and made significant changes to the traditional cast of characters while retaining the main features of the original narrative.

Part of the fascination of seeing the ballet unfold is to spot the equivalences in characterisation, setting and action. Cinderella is still the abused and much put-upon member of a dysfunctional family; while everyone else receives an invitation to a dance at the Café de Paris, she does not; the Fairy Godmother is now a male Good Angel; and Prince Charming is a wounded Battle of Britain pilot.

The narrative is played out against a variety of convincingly war damaged London locations. We see the panic of Londoners caught in the street during a surprise attack; low life in the streets and the London underground; a Paddington Station for joyful reunions and sad farewells; and most thrillingly the complete destruction of the Café de Paris when it takes a direct hit.

Cinderella’s extended family is a delight. Sybil, the Stepmother, brilliantly danced by Madelaine Brennan, is a beautiful but vicious overdressed vamp, always slightly drunk on black market booze. The Stepsisters, equally self-interested and spiteful, are convincingly characterised by Sophia Hurdley and Anjali Mehra, and do their best to make Cinderella’s life as miserable as possible. A particularly irritating younger brother performed by Paris Fitzpatrick is endlessly inventive and entertaining in finding opportunities for comic business.

As the principals, Andrew Monaghan as Harry the pilot and Ashley Shaw as Cinderella provide the love interest in the story, which is beautifully realised in a sensitive pas de deux in the pilot’s lodgings.

While the original production was conceived and choreographed by Matthew Bourne, Etta Murfitt is credited with the current restaging. The ensemble sequences are many, varied and always thrilling. The corps de ballet represent ARP wardens, Gas Mask Dogs, Airmen and Bombers, Prostitutes and Rent Boys, The Salvation Army, Savoy guests and much more. The ensemble dancing is energetic, disciplined, accomplished and almost always humorous.

The redoubtable Lez Brotherston has collaborated with Matthew Bourne on a number of previous productions. The settings of the many and varied scenes are stunningly effective and impressive in attention to detail. It is truly exciting to see familiar London venues re-imagined in a wartime context. What characterises Brotherston’s costume design is its range and variety. So we have recognisable uniforms for the servicemen, important set piece costumes like Cinderella’s transformation dress for the dance, but what I appreciate most is the wit involved in costumes designed to complement character.

Sound and lighting effects are also a vital part of this production, whether simply beautiful as in the presentation of a huge moon, or a tour de force when suggesting an aerial attack or the collapse of a building, or in fine detail as in the ARP wardens’ use of small torches in the dark.

Prokofiev’s music drives the energetic dance sequences and provides a rich texture for the emotional moments in the action. The recorded music conducted by Brett Morris is full toned and an essential part of the experience.

As well as the technical skill and artistry of the dancers, this is a production brimming with imagination and wit. Time slipped away in an entirely pleasurable experience.

Reviewer: Velda Harris

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