Cinderella often seems to be the fairy tale which finds it hardest to overcome the shadow of Disney, but director Sally Cookson and the Travelling Light team have found a way to tell the story, using elements of the Brothers Grimm and a Chinese version, to create something both immediately recognisable and yet utterly original.
The evening starts with birds, the five members of the cast, bespectacled and bobble-hatted hopping and flapping across the stage, cooing and cawing as they do so. In this prologue we see infant Ella develop into a nature-loving hoyden who loves the freedom of the forest and the open-air.
All is well until her father remarries and Ella’s step-mother and step-siblings, one of each sex, take over her life. In their sailor suits, they are prim and proper and never play outside, as different from Ella as they could be. One day in the woods Cinderella, newly named by her bullying step-family, meets a shy young man and they bond over their love of birds and her ability at birdsong. He gives her an invitation to his party.
This is a fabulous show. The actors, Lisa Kerr as Cinderella, Thomas Eccleshare as the Prince, Craig Edwards as Ella’s father and step-mother (a lovely transformation), Lucy Tuck as step-sister and the Prince’s mother, Saikat Ahamed as her step-brother are all superb, versatile and intense, bringing out the individuality of each character. The stage is almost bare with the four corner columns suggesting trees, and Matthew Graham’s lighting brilliantly evokes a forest or a palace ball. Benji Bowers music, which ranges from doo-wop to Asian-influenced background music and accompanies some great dance numbers, is an integral part of the show. Sally Cookson’s direction is inventive, conjuring up emotional intensity and humour using the simplest of means.
In a moving story about parents and children, class, greed and love there is room for some great comedy: the scene where the step-mother rehearses her daughter (and then her son) in the right way to land a prince is hilarious (the line “We’re going to need another dress” brings the house down). The ball scene, as both daughter and then mother try to seduce the Prince, tops that and adds a risqué frisson to proceedings. The very mixed audience, of all ages and both genders, adored another Bristol children’s show which deserves to be seen across the country.
A final word of warning: the theatre recommends this show for children of six and above. There is a scene of violence towards the end involving a meat-cleaver that would probably merit a 15 certificate if it were in the cinema. If you’re wondering about taking a child younger than six to see the show, think very hard beforehand.