With the auditorium lights dimly lit you are left in no doubt as you take your seats that this is going to be a very different version of Cinderella.

The opening moments of the ballet catapult us straight away into war-time London and the blitz with a Pathe news reel and what follows is one of Matthew Bourne’s most spectacularly staged  and realistically choreographed ballets.

We are transported among shattered buildings, there are scouring searchlights, sirens and amazing sounds and at one point a bombing raid reduces the set to fire and rubble. Lighting, Sound and Lez Brotherston’s award winning set make this technically an ultra-stunning and realistic production.

Bourne’s ballet incorporates everything wartime.  Scenes will evoke memories legendary films such as ‘A Matter of Life and Death’ where a pilot cheats death, ‘Waterloo Bridge’ – the inspiration for the prostitutes in the tube station  and finally ‘Brief Encounter’ where in a smoke filled station the couple get on the train.

He may have given the Fairy Godmother a role which also combines the Angel of Death and dressed him in a white suit and made the Prince an RAF pilot whilst the coach  may have become a white motor bike and side car but the elements of the story , including a pair of ultra sparkly slippers are still there.

We have the gin swilling, predatory and pure poison stepmother, there are both ugly sisters and brothers. Vernon, Cinderella’s brother with his shoe fetish is creepy, whilst the sisters are good time girls with an evil streak with a stream of male friends of spivs, black marketers and officers.

In this ballet set to Prokofiev’s music, Bourne never lets us forget the dark underbelly of war with all its personal and public atrocities. The spectacle of the ball at the Café de Paris – a glittering refuge for Mayfair socialites, destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1941 is particularly poignant. It mixes Prokofiev’s haunting waltzes with glitz and glamour and then takes a ghostly turn representing Cinderella’s dream that becomes a nightmare.

Cinderella depends a great deal on this talented company’s ability to not just dance but develop characterizations and make them totally believable – it’s that which drives the whole plot along. This choreography has a definite Bourne identity including a Glen Miller meets Prokofiev finale that I just loved!

Ashley Shaw transforms from a cardigan-bespectacled drudge to a beautiful princess whilst Dominic North plays Harry, the stiff upper lip, shell shocked pilot.  Their romantic duets together are both touching and emotionally charged,  especially just before they have to part – but true to the story with English grit he clings on to the slipper.

Although Cinderella doesn’t have a tutu in sight,don’t be put off taking your young ballet stars of the future to see this one. It’s one of Bourne’s tamest works and some of the more risqué bits will go straight over their heads.

But more important this is a piece of living history for them to experience and everyone needs to learn about the emotional trauma that everyone faced during World War II and bravely tried to carry on with their life


Liz Coggins is a member of The Critics Circle.

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