Matthew Bourne’s choreography tends to concern itself with characterisation and theatre more than with intricate dances. As such, it took some time before Cinderella showed the full extent of his talent as a director. His mastery of stage craft, however, was clear from the beginning. The curtain rises to the company assembled under a cinema-style screen, watching a government-sanctioned air-raid advice film in a manner typical of Bourne’s new brand of ballet. The ballet itself is set to Prokofiev’s original score, not played live but recorded and effectively complimented with sound design by Paul Groothius. The ballet combines 1940s dance hall style with the liberated modern ballet that Bourne is known for.
A beautiful and romantic pas de deux between Cinderella (Ashley Shaw) and Harry (Andrew Monaghan), her Pilot love, elevates the first act, which is otherwise slightly lacking in real dance substance. Other than this duet, which involves the clever use of a device involving a mannequin, the movements involving more dancers making up the majority of the second and third acts, were more impressive. These best display the various comic and dramatic characters such as the step-mother (Madelaine Brennan) and a host of ridiculous step-brothers.
The set design by Lez Brotherston transforms the stage through multi-layered projections and huge moving elements into Blitz-hit London. It is done on a spectacular scale and features a tube station, the ritzy interior of the Café de Paris and a cityscape complete with barrage balloons and cascading walls. Brotherston won an Olivier Award in 1997 for the set and costume design on Bourne’s previous production of Cinderella and this is no less impressive. The costume follows a strictly monochromatic theme throughout, complementing the set. Cinderella’s ball dress is a cloud-like creation that reflects the colours in the set and lighting with an ethereal glow. Some audience members, however, might find themselves missing the visual richness that we have come to expect from ballets such as Cinderella.
Similarly, some of the fairy tale magic of the classic Cinderella story is lost. The Fairy Godmother role is replaced by an angel, almost luminous in white, danced with panache by Liam Mower. Mower has some crowd-pleasing solos and a number of group dances in which he is joined by equally white-clad minions. There is also a certain lack of clarity in the storytelling. Dream scenes recur throughout the production but are insufficiently delineated. In one instance the audience is left to understand that a sleeping character had in fact died.
The ballet concludes with a full-company movement that radiates energy to the audience, though this is punctuated with some rather unexpected vocals from the dancers. This isn’t a ballet for the purist, but it makes for an evening of dazzling theatre which all seems in line with New Adventures’ aim as a company that mixes ‘popular appeal with ground-breaking, unique theatrical language’.
Runs 5th- 9th June
Image: Johan Persson