Review: Cinderella (The Vaults)

Luka Barnes’ adaptation takes place in a make-shift pub underneath Waterloo station

Jimmy Fairhurst and Rosa Coduri in Cinderella at the Vaults
Jimmy Fairhurst and Rosa Coduri in Cinderella at the Vaults
© Geraint Lewis

If you fancy a festive treat by way of TV's Shameless, Peter Kay's slice-of-life humour, and some tooth-grindingly bad karaoke, then here's your show. The Vaults' smaller space has been turned into a makeshift pub run by a dysfunctional family: Cinders' proprietor Dad has died leaving everything to his Elsie Tanner-ish widow (glorious Lizzie Hopley, resembling a council estate Marlene Dietrich) and her unlovely daughters; even Buttons the dog (Patrick Knowles, alarming but dolefully adorable and carrying a prosthetic limb for much of the night) is depressed to the point of suicide. It's all a bit tawdry and tragic… yet enormous fun.

As somebody usually mortally resistant to audience participation, I was surprised by how invested and up for it I felt. The centrepieces of Jen McGinley's authentic-looking immersive design are a fully working bar and a karaoke stage, lit in bright and acidic colours by Jack Weir. If you opt for the pub table seating you may well forget that you're in a theatre space at all.

Luke Barnes' script sometimes sacrifices wit to crudity and contains its fair share of groan-worthy gags, but the cast of seven have so much charisma that it's easy to overlook the longueurs and weak spots. Rosa Coduri injects a surprising, and welcome, degree of poignancy as Cinderella opposite Jack Condon's clueless Luke Evans-lookalike Prince Charming. The conclusion to their plot line isn't conventional but then again nothing is in this swaggering, gritty hijack of the well-known story.

Jimmy Fairhurst directs and plays, with a sweaty brilliance, the Fairy Godmother character (in this case a bearded, sequin-dressed queer ally named Mike) while Louise Haggerty and Megan Pemberton are genuinely hilarious as the irredeemably crass, but not entirely evil, step-sisters (one Glaswegian, the other pure Estuary… but they're twins, go figure).

The glass slipper is now an orthopaedic one bestowed on Cinderella by Charming's deceased Nan, and there are some seriously off-colour jokes about things that not everyone will find funny. However, if your humour tends towards the dark and sick, then this show will be a real hoot. If anything, it could go darker and nastier than it already does: the palpable sense of danger and edge at the outset isn't really followed through. But well, it's Christmas, and this is certainly no pantomime.

Anything that starts with a send-up of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and includes a twerk-til-you-drop version of "Voulez-Vous" gets a thumbs up. This is more of an experience than a show, and it's well worth a look if you want something grungy, silly and unconventional. Alcohol optional but advisable.