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Cinderella (Cambridge, Arts Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Up to the interval, the sparkling new Cinderella at the Arts Theatre works splendidly. The book and lyrics of Michael Gyngell keep the story moving with up-to-date touches as well as the more traditional features. Scott Ritchie’s choreography looks well – the youngsters who came onto the stage for the singalong picked the dancing as their favourite parts of the show – and is performed with brio. There’s a particularly nice moment when the royal hunt becomes the Ascot gavotte from My Fair Lady.

The fairy godmother is one of the elements which has received an update. Called Precious Moments, she’s played by Sheila Ferguson, who gets across her rhyming couplets and her songs with style and bravuraas she weaves her magic . There’s good interplay between Prince Charming (Lewis Bradley) – who has just the right blend of hauteur and naivety– and Rolan Bell as a Dandini who knows his own worth.

Katie Rowley Jones is a charming Cinderella; you can believe in her goodness which never comes washed out by too much simplicity. And there’s a ferocious pair of Ugly Sisters, thoroughly nasty as well as preposterously comical. Adam Price is carrot-topped and lanky Eugenie with Andy Spiegel as rotund, straw-blonde Beatrice. A double-act to savour as it matures. I wonder who or what inspired those names...

From Precious Moments’ initial descent from the flies on a crescent moon through to Cinderella leaving for the ball in a coach drawn by a snow-white Pegasus, it is all as right as it could be. So far, a five-star production. But then we come to the second half, and somehow the magic disintegrates. The comedy cabaret at the ball seems redolent of the days when this slot was usually filled with speciality acts and the kitchen slosh scene also looks as though it had dropped into this version of the story by mistake.

While he’s hankering after Cinderella and generally helping the story along, Matt Crosby’s Buttons is thoroughly enjoyable and he’s given a marvellous tongue-twister of an action recap in the final dénouement. But the three-dimensional character somehow becomes lost in the comic actor, and it all becomes a trifle disjointed. Steven Elliott’s Baron Hardup also seems to shift a couple of keys in the course of the action.

No designer is credited for the sets and costumes. The former uses well-painted drops and flats which hint at the baroque for the palace, make the tumbledown nature of Stoneybroke clear and take us into a picture-book forest. For the ensemble, the Prince, Dandini and Cinderella and also for the ball and walk-down sequences, there’s a good suggestion of the 18th century in the costumes, and they suit the energy of the dancing. The outrageous getups sported by Beatrice and Eugenie culminate in a riot of tinsel and glitter.


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