Matthew Bourne’s war-time Cinderella, search lights strafing the London sky during the Blitz, makes a welcome return for Christmas at the Wells. First seen in the West End in 1997, the show is a dazzling reclamation of the familiar story in the cinematic terms of Pressburger and Powell’s A Matter of Life and Death, and David Lean’s Brief Encounter.
Oddly, both those inspirations for Bourne have since been harnessed by Kneehigh in separate events of starkly contrasting success. But neither had an idea to compare for brilliance with Bourne’s reawakening of the bomb-damaged Café de Paris (scene of the recent WOS Awards nominations) as the crucible of Cinders’ romantic fantasy with her mustachioed, mysterious fighter pilot.
Set to Prokofiev’s mordant, melodic and strangely affecting music – recorded in “senssurround,” not played “live,” alas, as it was in 1997 – Bourne and designers Lez Brotherston (sets and costumes), Neil Austin (lighting), and Paul Groothuis (sound), recreate their stunning black and white household of a weird Cockney family and a devastated, nostalgically evoked city landscape (the Underground, the Embankment, Paddington Station) either side of the Café scenes.
And hovering over all is the Buttons figure of a white-suited Angel, balanced against the Joan Crawford pouting and posing of Cinderella’s stepmother. The dancing is elegant throughout, with firmly arched lines in all bodies, and wonderfully precise details in gesture and footwork. The finest of all magical moments is when Cinders waltzes behind a curtain with her dummy prince before emerging into a brilliant duet with the real thing.
The cast alternates, but I have no complaints at all about Kerry Biggin’s delightful Cinderella, Sam Archer’s splendid pilot, Michela Meazza’s serpentine stepmother (at one point she seems to lean backwards, supported only by forward pelvic thrust) or Adam Maskell’s authoritative icy angel. This really is a serious grown-up treat for all Londoners.