Ballet: Matthew Bourne's Cinderella
My brilliant ballet encounter
It was a fairy tale sell-out success at Bristol Hippodrome on the opening night of Sir Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella which swaps once-upon-a-time for London’s World War 2 blitz.
The stunning ballet is paired perfectly with Prokofiev’s dramatic score featuring grand waltzes and foreboding sequences, which the composer wrote during the darkest days of war.
This re-wrought classic fairy tale is embedded in real-life events when many star-crossed couples loved and lost.
Award-winning Bourne dispenses with a prince; instead a dashing but traumatised RAF pilot (sweetly played by Dominic North) sweeps the downtrodden drudge of a daughter (Ashley Straw) of her hard-working feet.
Her cruel and glamorous stepmother, Sybil, (Madeleine Brennan) with her viper’s nest of gruesome stepsisters and brothers are out to make her life miserable.
I loved the champagne-guzzling stepmother and spiteful daughters who flick ash on the floor for Cinderella to sweep up. The stepbrothers – one a gangly teen and the other in lust with Cinders, are a great creation.
In steps a male guardian angel (superbly played by Liam Mower) who isn’t just there for the ball, as he gives Cinderella a ride in a beautiful white motorbike and sidecar.
He weaves his magic in a celestial silver suit, making dancers move to his tune from beginning to end and it feels there is nothing can fight the twists of fate, life, death and love.
It’s a classic tale that still holds a swooning spell over women of all ages (which made up around 80 per cent of this audience on the first night), who long for this spirited ugly duckling to turn into a beautiful swan.
And what a transformation Bourne creates, taking the audience into the glitz (and carnage) of Soho’s Cafe de Paris, where Cinderella glides down the curved staircase in her glittery shoes and sparkling white dress. A thousand breaths are held amid the ghostly dancing couples and the spellbound audience.
This sensual Cinderella may lose her shoe but she doesn’t dispense with her desires as she beds her handsome pilot rather than rushing off alone into the night.
The plain bedroom scene is bathed in a heavenly golden light and makes the setting for a romantic dancing duet: the pilot in trousers, vest and braces and Cinderella: sexy and vulnerable in silky French underwear.
Of course, all fairytale true lovers face separation and the pair must suffer to be reunited. On the way we meet the fantastic prostitutes in Waterloo Bridge’s underground station, face air raids, bombs, dancing dogs in gas masks (it works), rent boys, the Salvation Army, and even a ‘Brief Encounter’ at Paddington Station.
Lez Brotherston’s set and costume design are sumptuous and incredible with sights and sounds including real clips of vintage film, the crump of bombs and blood-chilling sirens, with blazing skylines and soaked, blasted city streets as half of Europe was in the grip of Nazis.
Bourne manages to match dance, fairy tale and score seamlessly. He even adds humour into the mix as one drunken soldier staggers down the club staircase buttoning his flies when everyone is expecting a more glamorous guest.
The ending was wonderful and featured one of my all-time favourite Glen Miller songs. I have to admit I am not much of a ballet fan. I often long for someone to talk but Bourne’s production was truly mesmerising and completely changed my mind. Don’t miss it.
FOOTNOTE: Having seen Sleeping Beauty, Carman and The Red Shoes I echo Mel's sentiments - Matthew Bourne is ballet at its most brilliant.
This production plays at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday, March 24. For tickets from £19.40 click HERE.
All photos by Johan Persson