Forming part of New Adventures 30th anniversary celebrations, Matthew Bourne returns to Wales Millennium Centre with a dark, near unrecognisable version of the classic fairy tale, Cinderella. Retold as a wartime romance set against the horrors of the Blitz, princes and princesses have been replaced by pilots and prostitutes, as an altogether more sinister tale unfolds.
The prologue’s gravitas and substance are instantly dissipated by an unusually chaotic opening for Bourne, setting the production slightly on the back foot. Almost all the main characters are thrust upon the audience en masse in one overly busy scene – snippets of characterisation briefly revealed but stunted before being given room to fully develop. With dance the actors’ only means of character portrayal, this lack of opportunity to establish a solid basis unfortunately gives the majority of the cast a degree of immemorability as the stronger characters naturally demand the audience’s attention.
Easily the most compelling, Anjali Mehra is the sassiest of step-mothers, effortlessly commanding the limelight whenever she takes to the stage. Possessing an impressively eloquent array of facial expressions, Mehra conveys much with the delicate arch of an eyebrow or a wry twist of her mouth – this, coupled with an arresting dance technique, ensures she repeatedly draws the eye.
Ashley Shaw in her role as Cinderella is not so quick to overwhelm, yet when the choreography finally allows for it, she dazzles, bringing with her the first glimpse of that famous and elusive Matthew Bourne dance magic. Performing a duet with her “Prince Charming”, Harry the pilot (Will Bozier), the pair float across the stage in a mannequin inspired dance; beautifully blending a realistic stiffness and sharpness of movement with fluidity and grace in a stunning routine. Shaw and Bozier are strongest as a pair, later performing a gorgeously romantic and sensual contemporary duet, bringing a depth of emotion and maturity which transforms the whole atmosphere of the production,
This is a rare scene of hope and light in an otherwise very dark story, veering towards morbid on more than one occasion. A creepy undertone pervades much of the first and third Acts, frequently pulled to the forefront through unsavoury characters and senseless violence, in a somewhat erratic storyline. In theory, the premise of this modern twist on an old classic is a good one, and yet a lack of cohesion and finesse, coupled with some clunky scene transitions lends the production an inharmonious edge, at odds with Matthew Bourne’s usual well-balanced style.
Inspired by a number of classic movies, such as A Matter of Life and Death, The Bishop’s Wife and Brief Encounter, there is a charming synthesis of quintessential Britishness and old Hollywood glamour in both the costume and dance style. Prokofiev’s intensely powerful score is unleashed via surround sound to recreate the epic atmosphere of a cinematic experience; a highly effective technique especially efficacious when relaying the thunderous bombings of the Blitz.
Bursts of vibrant activity are juxtaposed with brief periods of stillness to create moments suspended in time, one of which is a showcase of the wreckage and fallen bodies of those killed at the Café de Paris – a real-life tragedy paid homage to in a beautiful, yet horrific scene. One of the greatest strengths of the production overall is its dedication to recreating the horrors of the Blitz, both aurally in the deafening explosion of shells and visually in the magnificently crumbling set, resulting in a production as much wartime tribute as dance sensation. It is this sensitivity and message of memorial, combined with Bourne’s trademark beguiling dance choreography, which adds a tragic poignancy and depth to a sinister production bearing little resemblance to the traditionally idealistic fairy tale of Cinderella.