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Cinderella (Leeds)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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While firmly aimed at children as part of the ‘Big Stories For Little People’ scheme of Christmas programming at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Cinderella also provides much entertainment for accompanying adults, or even those without children just looking for an enjoyable festive evening out.

An inventive, folksy version of the classic fairytale by Mike Kenny, Cinderella cleverly uses a mix of comedy and music to tell the story of the young girl living with her nasty stepmother and ugly stepsisters who gets a chance to go to the ball and ‘boogie in the big dance hall’, where she falls for the ‘man-some’ prince.

As narrated by the five human ‘rats’ that live with Cinderella, the story moves along quickly. While this makes for a lively and entertaining first act, the second act does feel a little rushed, with the whole business of the glass slipper emerging as a bit of an afterthought. But, on the whole, the length of the production (two hours, including a 20-minute interval) is about right for an audience predictably dominated by children that range in ages from tots to teens.

Much of the appeal is down to the talented cast of six, each of whom does sterling work as performers and musicians, with only Sophie McShera as Cinderella not taking on multiple roles. Each of the ‘rats’ – Claws, Ears, Teeth, Tail and Whiskers – is an individual character and great fun is to be found in their interplay, especially when they interact directly with the audience. Simon Kerrigan in particular stands out as a naturally gifted comedian who the young audience immediately warms to.

Special praise should also go to Ivan Stott, who, in addition to performing in the show, also serves as the composer, musical director and sound designer. The engaging musical numbers are the true highlights of the show and serve to make the story appeal to a modern audience (‘I smell a rat…and it’s where it’s at!’). However, the more dramatic scenes are also surprisingly effective and elicit the required ‘boos’ and ‘aahs’.

While maybe not the most slick, polished show to ever grace the Playhouse stage, much of the charm of Cinderella comes from its rough edges. Not least of these is courtesy of the makeshift set which at first glance looks thrown together, but is in fact truly in keeping with the style of the production. Two banks of seats either side of the auditorium gives the whole audience a good view of the minimal set that relies on small touches and a giant leap of imagination as Cinderella’s house is transformed into the ballroom during the interval merely with the addition of some colourful bunting suspended from the ceiling. In addition, well-used firemen’s poles and platforms either end of the stage give an added dimension of movement and physicality to the production.

However, despite its other accomplishments, the main question to ask of a production of this type is whether it can hold the interest of the younger members of the audience throughout. Judging by their uniformly enthusiastic reaction, the answer to that is a resounding ‘yes’.

- Hannah Giles


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