Matthew Bourne is a creative genius as he sets Cinderella in 1940s bombed out London with the ‘Prince’ being a lost and injured Pilot who finds his true love against the backdrop of air raid sirens and raging fires.
The magical show opens with a loud siren blaring out across the dark theatre as the curtain rises on the step-family’s soot covered lounge room, with Cinderella (Ashley Shaw) dressed dowdy and bland, as we meet the step-sisters and brothers and the nasty step-mother all dressed in 40s style outfits of muted shades of grey.
From the moment the cast steps on stage Matthew Bourne’s choreographic genius appears as he creates distinct characters that you immediately love. Even the brash step-mother (Michela Mazza) strutting with her arrogance is divine and the bullying step-sisters and brothers are fun. The family perform with perfect comic timing the brilliantly humorous dance sequences infused with 40s style ballroom swing and jive.
As Cinderella sweeps the stage, her Pilot ‘Harry’ (Andrew Monaghan) stumbles through the door and literally falls at her feet. Their magical meeting ruined by the arrival of her step-family and the soldier flees from the unwanted advances of the aging step-mother. The New Adventure dancers are skilled actors and accomplished dancers and each scene is astonishing, with decadent sets, lighting effects and the uplifting music by Prokofiev.
When the party invitations arrive dramatically through the post, the nasty step-mother hands them out to all except poor little Cinders. All down and gloomy she pulls out the most sparkly pair of silver shoes ever seen, slips them on and dances with a mannequin as her imaginary Harry.
Magically the mannequin transforms into the real pilot as Monaghan joins Cinderella for a delightful pas de deux filled with waltzing and swing lifts that would delight fans of Strictly Come Dancing. Mongahan is a fabulously convincing mannequin with ridged arms and body against Shaw softness and grace as they glide together dipping and twirling.
The Angel (Liam Mower) aka the Fairy Godfather (Bourne beautifully twists every character!) all dressed in white arrives as thick white smoke spills across the stage. We’re transported to the streets of London hailing with bombs as a troupe of airmen shassay on stage hip rolling and quick hops with diving arabesques resembling flight. As the scene comes to a crescendo, the Angel literally drives onto the stage in an all white 1940s sidecar motorbike as he carries Cinderella off to the ball.
Act two opens with a bang, London is burning, buildings brought to rubble behind a screen of flames. The staging is spectacular with the incredible musical score creating a deeply moving atmosphere.
The Angel sifts through the rubble and uncovers a mirror ball that rises to the ceiling as he seems to turn back time. The scene and dancers reverse their movements until they’re back on the dancer floor of the glittering Café de Paris. With champagne glasses in hand they perform a dreamy ballroom scene filled with nimble feet, fancy spins and partnering that is oh so strictly-fabulous.
The princely Pilot arrives in his finest uniform along with two dashing officers (Dominic North and Glenn Graham) who perform a jazzy and flashy entrance to the party. Cinders descents the red carpet staircase in a brilliant white long flowing diamond encrusted ballgown with long satin gloves looking every bit the perfect Disney princess. After a dazzling display of foxtrot and quickstep-esque ensembles, Cinders and her true love dash off into the night.
Against the backdrop of a smoldering St Paul’s Cathedral, we join Cinderella and Harry in their nightclothes in an intimate, raw and emotional scene as they longingly cling to each other in a captivating pas de deux that brings an element of solemn reality to their fairy tale world. Shaw and Monaghan display a deep connection, performing with intense emotion in a scene that puts the choreography and their absorbing performance centre stage.
As the clock strikes midnight, bombs drop and the stage goes up in flames, and in the raging chaos they are separated and the Pilot desperately searches for Cinderella finding only her sparkling silver shoe.
The final Act continues the visual spectacular as we arrive outside Oxford Circus tube station. This scene is especially brilliant, as the cast become a sea of anonymous Londoners busily dashing in the rain not stopping for the distraught Pilot seeking out Cinderella. We move to Embankment where Bourne distinctly brings out the characteristics of the London men in flap caps and vests with little hip movements and heel spins, as they move with an underlying aggression to intimidate the Pilot.
In the midst of the bombing blitz, Cinders is discovered and taken to hospital. This is a clever scene which uses the old white cloth medical screens theatrically to enhance the story. And under a bright red cross hanging from the ceiling, the Pilot is brought to the ward, where he’s reunited with Cinderella and the two sparkling slippers find their way back onto her feet and they waltz their way into night.
And just when you thought the fairy tale was over, Bourne gives you even more with a final sweet scene where the newly married couple ride off in an old carriage train. But if you’re thinking about dashing out of the theatre at this point, wait just that bit longer as the party doesn’t end. The entire cast comes onto stage dancing an up tempo swing street party all jazzy and jitterbug as each set of dancers take their bows under rows of bunting and streaming ticker tape to the roar of applause from the audience who delivers them a much deserved standing ovation for the most entertaining and spectacular night.
Reviewed at Sadler’s Wells on 19 December 2017. Cinderella runs to 27 Jan 2018.