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Cinderella (Dukes, Lancaster)

The Dukes' Cinderella has the right amount of contemporary references to please adults as much as children.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Many folk- and fairy-tales have their origins far back in the mists of time. For some 400 years, Cinderella has been been a popular and much-loved favourite story throughout the generations.

Cinderella at the Dukes
© Darren Andrews

It continues to fascinate composers, ballet creators and stage adapters. Sometimes classed as a timeless tale about unjust repression, like Robin Hood, it can readily be shaped to suit the interpreter's own time, place and social setting.

And this is just what Lancashire lad Ian Kershaw has done for The Dukes in Lancaster. Best known for his TV work (Holby City, Doctors and EastEnders), he has recently chosen to concentrate on theatre writing.

He has set the tale in an isolated Northern farm run by a widowed father, but the work is left for most of the time in the care of Ella, his only daughter, whilst he travels away to sell their produce and purchase supplies and domestic necessities.

The farmer remarries unwisely – and the inevitable consequences soon emerge. Kershaw's Northern, left-of-centre take is beautifully written with some cracking local dialogue, and in an idiom which makes the story easily comprehensible to both the youngsters in the audience and the older generations alike – without even a whiff of condescension.

The Dukes' Artistic Director Joe Sumsion imaginatively directs the cast of six (there is some intelligent doubling), and Alison Heffernan's flexible and restrained set-in-the-round is used to great effect for the various settings the story demands.

Lighting, by Brent Lees, also points up the changes in mood, as does the fine vocal and instrumental score from Carol Donaldson. There is some wonderful puppetry (with advice from Josh Darcy), not least the Greek Chorus of chickens and a stunningly versatile dog, Jake, who for some will have stolen the show.

But whilst the children chortled at the wackier lines,and palpably drew breath at the more serious moments, many of the older members of the audience were also responding audibly to Kershaw's nicely-couched political and social references.

With a healthy contempt for anything or anyone that resembles Essex Girl, and a clear vindication of Northern 'good solid graft', the text and narrative clearly won over everyone present.

After last winter's success with A Christmas Carol, and Hansel and Gretel and Other Tales in Lancaster's Williamson Park this summer, The Dukes's winning streak is continuing, and Cinderella is a must-see on the North West's already rich theatre scene.

Cinderella continues at the Dukes, Lancaster until 10 January.

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