Cinderella – the other side of the story

Momoko Hirata as Spring; photo: Bill Cooper

Momoko Hirata as Spring; photo: Bill Cooper

Think of Cinderella and one immediately conjures up thoughts of the much-loved traditional fairy story. Pretty girl, downtrodden and bullied by her wicked stepmother and two stepsisters who make her life utterly miserable until they’re thwarted by the intervention of Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.

After a series of adventures, Cinders meets and marries her one true love and they live happily ever after.

That’s the traditional tale but as this was another brilliant production from Matthew Bourne, who specialises in interpreting and adapting traditional stories in his unique manner. It came as no surprise that his latest offering again demonstrated that as a producer/ choreographer, he has no equal in  ability to brings such tales to life as a modern day story.

It’s set in 1940s London. Air raids are a nightly feature. The population never know if this will be their last day alive due to unrelenting air raids by the Luftwaffe. The relentless bombing campaign is aimed at killing as many ordinary citizens as possible in the belief that this will weaken their resolve not to give in to the dastardly Germans.

The story is told over three acts, and for those who lived and experienced the horrors of World War Two, and there were many in the audience that did, it would have rekindled disturbing memories of those dark days. The first act sees the curtain rise on a black and white Pathe Newsreel in a picture house, with people hurrying to find shelter before the carnage begins. The film and soundtrack shows them scurrying to safety, but even that could rely more on luck than judgement.

It moves on to the the family house where Cinderella is tormented by stepmother Sybil and stepsisters, Irene and Vivien who make it plain that they hold her in contempt, before the scene shifts to a blackout where Cinderella meets Harry, an RAF pilot.

They immediately fall in love as the bombing begins, and amid the ensuing panic they’re inevitably split up. The only thing a wounded Harry can find is a left behind silver slipper. He has no alternative other than to search for the owner, and if successful will ensure a loving reunion and a fairytale happy ending.

But before that we’re shown death and destruction on a grand scale, via wonderful artistic dancing. A bomb hits the Cafe de Paris dance hall (as it did in real life) maiming and killing people that had little or no chance of survival. And in this context the set is very graphic. Blood stained bodies, images of destruction, allied by wonderful lighting, and music by Serge Prokofiev. I wasn’t familiar with the music but even so Bourne’s wonderful choreography dovetailed perfectly into the scenes, whether those of a light note or in the all so powerful story telling areas.

The final scenes incorporate movement around the streets of London, the underground, the Thames Embankment, a convalescence home and Paddington Station where Cinderella, who had also been injured, is eventually reunited with Harry. A sensitive final scene and the happy couple board a train (a very impressive set, as are all of them by Lez Brotherton) where they celebrate their reunion to start a ‘Happy Ever After’ scenario.

The principle roles are taken by Kerry Biggins (Cinderella) Sam Archer (Harry) and Christopher Marney, whe dances the role of ‘The Angel’ as opposed to a traditional Prince Charming. Each portrays modern ballet dancing of the highest quality, as do all the cast members, as they swirl around the stage in perfect unison.

Bourne’s previous productions have been of a similiar high quality. Carmen’, Swan Lake and Nutcracker – all so very enjoyable in bringing humour to the fore. Cinderella, while having flashes of humour, plainly depicts the other side of a war and congratulations have to go to everyone connected with his latest powerful production. Matthew Bournes’s company are perfectly named New Invention -never was a title so appropriate.

They’re a touring dance company, and for that alone the Birmingham Hippodrome are fortunate that all of his new productions will create so much interest that it will inevitably lead  to ‘Sold Out’ notices posted for most performances.

In his programme notes Matthew tells the reasons why he took the decision to set and adapt Cinderella back in War torn London. These are many and varied but for me one stood out; “I dedicate this piece to my dad, Jim Bourne (1932-2010), who was there and lived to tell the tale” Although I didn’t live in London during the Blitz, as a young boy who experienced the terror of many nights in a Smethwick air raid shelter I can only echo these sentiments.

Cinderella has now finished its run at the Hippodrome but to see what else is on click here