I thought that Matthew Bourne’s production of Red Shoes would be the best thing I would ever watch, but his Cinderella production completely stole my heart. It was the most breathtaking ballet I have ever seen.
Matthew Bourne has a way of bringing out the darkest themes in his ballets with incredible effectiveness. As predicted, Bourne strays far from the traditional, cheesy fairytale and sets the story in London during World War Two, when the city was being bombed. While these beginning scenes made it seem as if her adopted family was merely there for comic relief, Bourne allows for some character development for them, and by the end of the show, all her stepsiblings become better people. One of them even discovers his sexuality, gets a boyfriend and comes out as gay.
Bourne is great at giving his audience authentic, multidimensional characters. Cinderella, for example, isn’t just a timid, obedient slave. She has a rebellious and seductive side, which is great fun to watch. Portrayed by Ashley Shaw, Bourne’s Cinderella is a realistic version of her fairytale counterpart, with obvious desires and thoughts of her own from the start.
Shaw does this character justice. Her lines are divine, stunning and perfect, and the emotion she conveys with each movement can be deeply felt no matter how far one is sitting from the stage.
While the main romance of the story was between Cinderella and Harry (Dominic North), an injured American pilot, the most beautiful relationship for me was the one between Cinderella and the Angel, a mysterious silver-suited male who replaces the traditional fairy godmother.
Instead of escaping her house, Cinderella is victim of a bombing that nearly takes her life. The Angel lets her go back in time to attend the ball she wanted to go to, and he gives her until midnight, which is when the bomb went off. This was a clever way of incorporating the original tale into a darker reality.
What I loved most about this character is that one could never really tell if he was good or bad. Liam Mower played him marvelously, with sharp and graceful movements; the theme of death being heavily present in the plot, Liam successfully added a hauntingly sinister undertone to his angelic dancing.
Cinderella and the Angel ultimately had an eerily beautiful relationship together. Whenever Liam and Ashley danced, they flawlessly portrayed its complex dynamics through their extremely strong technique and an amazing stage presence. The world disappeared when I was watching the two of them.
While each and every dancer was brilliant, the stage setup, like in the Red Shoes production, was what really blew my mind. The shattered buildings, the projection of fire on the stage, the overwhelmingly loud and shocking sounds of the explosions and the bright flashes of light allowed a ballet production to effectively portray the horrors of war.
Overall, the production was incredibly moving. I could hear people sniffing all around me, and I may have shed a tear, too.
Cinderella is being performed at the Norwich Theatre Royal from Tuesday 27th February to Saturday 3rd March.