Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Sandra Callard, May 2018
Matthew Bourne is today’s foremost choreographer of dance, and more specifically, ballet. His modern fairy tale of Cinderella is now touring again and this time it’s set in 1940s war-torn Britain. Perhaps an odd choice of setting, with the heavy military uniforms and the far-from-pretty utility clothing, but Bourne is nothing if not innovative.
The Blitz is realistically presented with strobe lighting and the pounding and horrific sound effects of the relentless bombing raids on London. Original Pathe News clips advise the populace what to do if the worst happens, and the death toll highlights how futile this is. A radical start to the most famous fairy tale in the world, this production is classed as a ballet, but includes dance of all kinds, from pure balletic sequences to the American forties jitterbug.
The stiff wartime uniforms do not lend themselves easily to the fluid and beautiful movements of true ballet, and occasionally appear stilted. No ballet shoes are worn throughout the production, and there are sequences with the entire company in bare feet, which is startlingly impressive.
Even more so is the two beautiful pas de deux between Cinderella and the injured pilot Harry, danced by Ashley Shaw and Dominic North to the wonderful music of Prokofiev. One pas de deux is danced entirely in bare feet and the other has Cinderella in a ballgown and silver high-heeled shoes, both of which make novel ballet and are quite entrancing.
“Almost pulls it off”
There is no Fairy Godmother here, or even a Fairy Godfather, which would equate with Bourne’s penchant for changing the accepted sex of the major roles, but we do have a silver-haired Angel, whose athletic performance by Liam Mower is faultless, as he provides the magic necessary to fulfil the fairy tale. Mower’s performance after the bombing of the Cafe de Paris, as he slowly brings the dead back to life is quite mesmeric, and the entire scene is both horrific and superb.
This production of Cinderella is not perfect. Bourne’s reputation for turning an accepted and simple story into a totally different and many layered production is perfectly exemplified here, with scenes that include barking and gas masked dogs, and prostitution in the Blitz. His reputation is such that we are almost not surprised by the surprises.
I think Bourne almost pulls it off, but the periphery of the story is almost greater than the substance, which tends to get submerged in a welter of characters and activities. However, love triumphs, and the final scene is gloriously reminiscent of the great forties film Brief Encounter, as the lovers board a wonderfully realistic steam train to happiness.
Images: Johan Persson