Cinderella: A Fairytale – Review
Tobacco Factory Theatres and Travelling Light 2016/17
Our Verdict: Don’t miss this perfect theatrical treat
Our Rating: 10/10
Trying to describe a Christmas show at The Tobacco Factory Theatres (TTFT) is rather like trying to pin down a worthy definition of love. It’s easy to fall into tired clichés. Roll out words about how simply marvellous the performance was, the director’s staging, the creativity.
It’s doubly easy to do when the production has been created by TTFT and Travelling Light. For together, they create simply the best shows you can see during the Christmas period in the city.
In fact, such was the success of Cinderella: A Fairy Tale when it premiered at the theatre in 2011, that it went to London, was seen by a staggering 60,000 people and was even nominated for an Oliver Award.
Now, it’s back to where it all began, with a faithful revival recreated by many of those who have worked on it since its inception.
The production is a world away from the dozy pantomime mare simpering across celebrity castings, or the insipid pout glaring at you from a range of Disney Princess products.
No, this telling takes you back to the dark roots of the story, of which there are 345 different versions.
Sally Cookson, the original director, chose the Grimm version as her starting point. And grim it is in places, with spine tingling moments burrowing through the fun and frolics of this beautiful story.
And spine tingling automatically brings me straight to the wonderful, brilliant, marvellous, fantastic Craig Edwards, for it is his quietly insane performance of Stepmother who keeps me on the edge of my seat throughout. And she’s an evil one no doubt about it. Edwards creates a character who is disturbingly manipulative, abusive and very real. He cleverly morphs on stage from Ella’s loving father into Stepmother in a genius transition.
Having a man play this role but not in a pantomime dame way brings the character a more intimidating height, pitch and strength in much the same way that some productions of the ballet Sleeping Beauty use a man to play the dark fairy. She’s a real badass, complete with meat cleaver at the end and a determination to make that slipper fit one of her children.
But he doesn’t remain Stepmother throughout. The seven person cast – including two onstage musicians – are incredibly versatile, playing a variety of roles between them.
Isabella Marshall is a kick ass Cinderella. She’s bright, sparky and intelligent. She never needs rescuing, remaining an equal to the prince in both confidence inner strength and intellect.
It is birds that literally unite Ella and the Prince for they are the magical creatures in this show. The story establishes a protective bond between the outdoorsy Ella and a pack of birds from her very birth. All the cast play her feathered friends and it’s brilliantly done. They take on the individual characteristics of each species whilst also working together as a flock.
The way they are choreographed at times is staggering brilliant, with stand out moment featuring Cinderella running and flying through the air aided by the herd.
As well as birds, love is a strong driver in this show. But don’t worry, it’s not done in a saccharine way. It’s fresh, genuine and evolves at a pace slow enough to create a genuine bond.
Joey Hickman as the Prince is funny funny funny. He’s socially inept, packs an inhaler and NHS style glasses and of course is a keen ornithologist.
The lovely Lucy Tuck is back again in her role of the sinister Sister, this time partnered with the delightful Dorian Simpson as her sibling Brother, both characters a cross between Midwich Cuckoos and Kubrick’s creepy twins in The Shining.
They are of course a product and victim of their mother’s abusive manipulation and control. Moments where they are forced to parade around in preparation for the Prince’s ball are both funny yet tense.
And there are definitely few scenes in theatre funnier than the combination of both siblings and stepmother dressed in pink ball gowns attempting to win the prince’s affection in a breathless and hysterical ballroom scene.
But in Adam Peck’s brilliant script, Line of the Night certainly goes to Craig Edward’s Stepmother. “Somebody get me out of the kitchen,” he trills with passion as he smashes a dinner service on stage to stop Ella from going to the ball.
Chris Pirie takes the helm as director, surely a challenging job in this intimate space with audience members in-the-round on every side of the action. But he successfully brings the energetic cast together and draws the audience deep into this wonderful fairy tale world.
Cinderella: A Fairytale, is one of those incredibly rare theatrical examples of where every cog in the creative process is perfect, creating the best piece of theatre.
The show is on at the theatre until 22 January 2017