Review: CinderELLA (Nuffield Southampton Theatres)

A new musical based on the classic tale opens in Southampton

Lydia White (Cinders) and Valda Aviks (Ella)
Lydia White (Cinders) and Valda Aviks (Ella)
© The Other Richard

‘Tis the season for the re-telling of fairytales, and Nuffield Southampton Theatres has chosen to reimagine the story of Cinderella this Christmas, bringing it to life in musical form.

Directed by Michael Fentiman, composed by Barnaby Race, and designed by Madeline Girling, CinderELLA is a contemporary adaptation of a much-loved tale, which sees not just one woman, but two, searching for their happily ever after (of sorts).

Cinders is an old soul of a girl, who feels out of place in college, and has found an unusual friendship with Ella – an older, lonely lady mourning the loss of her husband. Both are being kept from their present by their pasts, and both, naturally, are destined to go on a journey of self-discovery.

This fairytale has all of the classic tropes we know and love, but cleverly turned on their heads: the fairy godmother has been replaced by an impish policeman; the ugly stepsisters are now two outlandish and tawdry nieces, and Prince Charming is an ex-fiancée. What's more, there's extra confusion added to the mix with some Freaky Friday-esque body-swapping to boot.

The resulting musical contrasts with the usual intense glitz and glamour of the Christmas panto; this is a charming, home-grown, feminist fairytale, complete with folksy ballads and low-key love stories.

With just seven actors in total, each member of the cast has their chance to shine. Lydia White's Cinders is every inch the headstrong-but-troubled hero who offers stunning vocal talent, and Valda Aviks's Ella is a sweet and slightly unconventional older lady; they make a lovely pair. Their love interests, Daniel (played by Jos Slovick) and Harry (played by Michael O'Connor) are equally as enjoyable to watch.

Tom Hier's curious Policeman works magic throughout the performance and delights the audience with his cheeky manner and mysteriousness. The entertainingly named evil nieces, Melania and Ivanka (Emma Darlow and Imelda Warren-Green) are greedy, gaudy and highly entertaining comic relief; while you can't help but wonder if some of their jokes are a little lost on the younger members of the audience, their physical comedy and silliness raise plenty of laughs.

CinderELLA proves that romance and magic are ageless; the inclusion of a love story for elderly Ella as well as teenage Cinders is refreshing and heartwarming in a world that usually focuses on young love. Allusions to loneliness in the elderly, and mental health, add to the compassionate nature of the production.

While it is most certainly a musical, it is not full of big-band numbers. The cast members themselves perform the score with instruments that blend seamlessly into their performances. Thanks to this small cast, gorgeous lighting and minimalist set, the end product is intimate and humble, while also managing to wow. Despite a slightly slow start, it picks up the pace and ends up packing a punch.

An enchanting and down-to-earth fairytale for a modern audience, it is sure to thaw even the iciest of hearts this winter.