The team of Andrew Pollard (writer) and Adam Sunderland (director) has produced an impressive series of children’s plays for the Stephen Joseph Theatre and, before that, Northern Broadsides – and the formula for their success seems to be that they don’t have a formula. Every one is different – and Cinderella pitches us more towards pantomime than any of the others. The target age group is harder to identify and for me it takes longer for the magic to work (and I’m sure a few minutes will be shaved off Act 1 during the run), but certainly it works in the end.
Andrew Pollard’s take on the story is typically ingenious, owing a fair bit to a Filipino version printed in the programme, but firmly placed in Scarborough. Most versions of Cinderella start with the wicked stepmother scenario, Pollard gives us the back story. Ella is part of a family devoted to each other and the sea; her mother drowns; May Force, the new coach of Scarborough’s teenage synchronised swimmers, is on the look-out for a rich second husband to support her and daughter Gail; soon she marries Ella’s father, Woody; he abandons the sea and they run a hotel, with Ella in the kitchen. When Woody escapes by returning to sea, attention shifts to the rich slot-machine king, Den Pence, and his surf-boarding son Sevril – and (would you believe?) Den decides to hold a ball for all the good folk of Scarborough!
Becky Hindley’s terrifyingly funny May Force, gold-digger and harpy, combines crocodile charm and manic malevolence, while as her daughter Howard Gossington, in a touch of pantomimic cross-dressing, is petulant enough for two Ugly Sisters! Paul Ryan, a nicely sincere Woody, really comes into his own as the expansive Elvis lookalike, Den Pence. Martina Horrigan and Iddon Jones are appealing as the young people and Maria Gough is a sweet Fairy Crabmother (don’t ask!). The seven-strong troupe of young performers (in alternation) is disciplined and charming, even if the dance movements are rather repetitive.
Jan Bee Brown’s designs involve a basic empty stage, with modest additions, and entertaining and imaginatively over the top costumes, and Dominic Sales provides an eclectically effective music score with some pleasing songs.