Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella, Bristol Hippodrome and touring

HAVING seen Matthew Bourne’s latest ballet, The Red Shoes, last year, and Sleeping Beauty the year before, it was good to see how they compared with one of his older works, Cinderella, relocated by Bourne to the Second World War with Cinderella’s chance meeting not with a Prince but an RAF pilot, Harry, and with an Angel in control of things, rather than a fairy godmother.

This was a magical evening, and although I do not know the correct words when writing about dance, I am absolutely blown away by the attention to detail, the physical strength, and the beautiful positioning of parts of the body. When being carried the dancers spend as much time pointing toes and fingers and positioning heads, arms, legs and other body parts as when they touch the ground again, like arriving at the end of a travelator, their legs having to start creating the movement again.  The music is not played live, but once that creative decision has been made it leaves budget free to employ 60 musicians for a few weeks to record Prokofiev’s dramatic score to perfection, to mix it into powerful surround sound at some amazing volumes to fill any auditorium enough to almost cancel out the usual irritations of quadraphonic coughing and sweet wrappers, and to employ some of the world’s greatest dance talent to fill the stage.

Matthew Bourne and his team do not just bring us ballet, they bring spectacular theatre, with music as already mentioned, huge sets that transform before our eyes, in this case including a destroyed Cafe de Paris returning to it’s former glory, all under the control of the Angel, and then the destruction again as a bomb tears it apart, and high definition projection, with such clarity that a clock face, and the opening titles, almost seem to leap off the curtain towards us. There are echoes and references to so many other works, of stage and screen, from It’s A Wonderful Life to A Matter of Life and Death, and as usual with Mr Bourne the dance is not just traditional ballet: in Cinderella we have ballroom dancing, jiving, and something like a hoe-down at one stage, with dancers making grotesque actions reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video.

Not a single member of this team is ever under-worked, and as I’ve mentioned them in past reviews, the follow-spot operators were also on top form, whether part of the company or resident at the Hippodrome. Members of what would possibly just be called an ensemble or chorus in any other show each have their own characters, and they develop through the evening. In one example, I had noticed a slim, young blond chap usually in an RAF uniform with a smile not unlike the comedian Rob Beckett long before his comedy routines in the ballroom, and it must be such an exciting world to be in, where everyone has such an important part to play, and can be noticed just as much as any of the traditional leads.

It was a treat to see at least two of the company from The Red Shoes in principal roles tonight, with Ashley Shaw as Cinderella and Liam Mower as the Angel, but I am certain that whoever dances the roles they would bring their own level of finesse, and it is amazing to see so much world-class talent all on the same stage at the same time. Where a theatre director might ask a character to walk across the stage from one point to another, in Bourne’s world every move of every limb is directed, and it shows. Nobody, not a single member of the whole company, ever just walks, or even moves, without some reason, and style, from the wimpish elder stepbrother through to the Joan Crawfordesque Sybil the Stepmother. Every move of everything, down to fingers and facial gestures, is arranged to perfection, and this draws us in. We cannot miss anything, and yet I know I must have done, as I could only watch one person or two at time, so what individual characteristics and idiosyncrasies was I missing elsewhere on the stage?

If you have never seen a Matthew Bourne show, you really, really should – you will laugh, cry, and wonder in amazement at just what those people on the stage are doing, and you will want to see more, and more, of the same.  Thank you Sir Matthew and team.


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