Marvellous storytelling in Matthew Bourne’s darkly urgent Cinderella

Birmingham Hippodrome
February 6, 2018

Phil Preece

A new ballet from Matthew Bourne is always an event (even if it is a fresh look at an old favourite) and this first night was appropriately packed with fans old and new. The Cinderella story of a young girl, mother dead, downtrodden by a stepmother and two nasty stepsisters, ignored by her weak father who now has a new family is universal and strikes a deep-set nerve.

Cinderella does come with an inescapable panto aspect to it, but if you’re subconsciously nervy about that, worry not. In the hands of the master this Bourne creation remakes the archetypal story to stunning effect by setting it in the darkest days of the Second World War and locating it in London during the Blitz. Here we see a posh upper-class family apparently enjoying a ‘good war’. For these ladies, there were still couture dresses to be had and in posh hostelries like the Café de Paris they and their gentlemen could still enjoy gourmet meals washed down by the bottles of champagne that could still be had at a price.

Ashley Shaw (Cinderella) and Andrew Monaghan (Harry) in Matthew Bourne's CinderellaPhoto Johan Persson
Ashley Shaw (Cinderella) and Andrew Monaghan (Harry) in Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella
Photo Johan Persson

But this isn’t all posh. One of the great strengths of Cinderella is that we see the darkened underbelly of the beleaguered city with its blitzed homeless, its crime and ruffians, the tarts with their pimps, and the occasionally shocking violence, all set against a drab wartime palette of greys, every action given an extra immediacy with the threat of death ever present. Here is no Dunkirk spirit. Civilization is teetering on the very brink of the grave, and in this pre-welfare state world the lower classes muddle through as they’ve always had to. Think Foyle’s War set to music.

And the music is perhaps the most powerful aspect of this production, for here the disturbing urgency of Prokofiev’s wartime score truly becomes its powerhouse, its disturbing rhythms and almost atonal atmosphere underpinning every action, the choreography urgently catching this message of imminent destruction and death.

This is the music of a century of catastrophic conflicts, and here the darkly sinister and explosive quality of the score fully supports this ballet’s dark look at the world. But this is storyland, and Ashley Shaw’s Cinders, despite everything Hitler can throw at her, finally finds her prince thanks to a silver-clad Fairy Godfather and can go on to live happily ever after. The cheering ovation at the end said it all.

Andrew Monaghan and New Adavnetures in Matthew Bourne's CinderellaPhoto Johan Persson
Andrew Monaghan and New Adavnetures in Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella
Photo Johan Persson

Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella continues on tour. Visit for details.