Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), London Coliseum, March 2011

Stage versions of Cinderella are many and varied. In Rossini’s opera there’s a pompous stepfather, in Massenet’s a stepmother, and in Ashton’s classic ballet a father. But all agree that Cinderella’s mother has died, and in David Bintley’s new production we see a glimpse of her funeral during the overture. It’s a brief but poignant scene, well supported by Prokofiev’s music, as is much else in Bintley’s new creation — seen here in London for the first time.

The magic starts, all photos by Bill Cooper

The two stepsisters are played here as obnoxiously juvenile girls, their teasing easily turning to pushing and shoving, but they can also be funny and I loved the incidents at the ball with the major domo’s staff of office. Above all, however, is the nasty stepmother, brilliantly portrayed by Marion Tait. Her ball dress was stunning, and when the prince brings the slipper to the house she follows her awful daughters in trying it on . . . before Cinderella herself comes forward.

Frog coachman, lizard footmen and mouse pages

The business with the slippers is very cleverly done, starting in the kitchen scene of Act I. Cinderella brings out a red box containing a portrait of her mother, and two pretty bejewelled slippers. The stepsisters suddenly enter and grab them, until more urgent matters claim their attention and Cinders can hide them again. Then when everyone’s gone, and she’s alone again, the fire suddenly springs to life and a barefooted old crone appears from nowhere, seated next to it. Cinderella gives her the precious slippers, catalyzing the magic. Bintley uses the slippers very skilfully and when Cinders returns from the ball she fishes out the red box again, hiding her remaining slipper. Once again the wretched sisters burst in again and grab it, but this time they are interrupted by the arrival of the prince himself, and Cinderella, unable to hide the box in its usual place, sits by the fire holding it. This seems an awkward moment for her while the sisters and stepmother try on the slipper, but then shyly and slowly she comes forward with the matching slipper. There is no rush, and this important moment is given full focus, creating a sense of wonder, well supported by Prokofiev’s glorious music.

Elisha Willis and Iain Mackay, Act III

The music is well used, and Bintley’s production manages to insert magic into moments that are sometimes missed, greatly helped by Koen Kessels’ wonderfully sympathetic conducting. Designs by John Macfarlane express the dichotomy between the cold looking kitchen and the mysterious world beyond for the seasons and the stars, glimpsed in the distant background of the ball scene. I loved the way the coach came together at the end of Act I, taking Cinderella off to the ball, and I loved the clock, as it came together in Act II, with its inner workings showing the rapid passing of time. Lighting by David Finn was excellent and I particularly liked the gradual visibility of the ball scene at the start of Act II.

The corps de ballet and soloists danced beautifully and Elisha Willis was a lovely Cinderella, showing refinement and strength in reserve, well deserving her very handsome prince in the form of Iain Mackay. Victoria Marr was a gentle fairy godmother, and the sisters were very amusingly portrayed by Gaylene Cummerfield and Carol-Anne Millar — I particularly liked Ms. Cummerfield’s clumsiness at the ball, sickling her foot most horribly at one point. And throughout it all, Marion Tait as the stepmother, holds the stage with a nod and glance.

This production by David Bintley has moments of magic, and when you go you should buy a programme to read Neil Philip’s interesting essay on the myth of Cinderella, including a version connected with the folk tale aspect of Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Performances at the London Coliseum continue until April 2 — for more information, and to book on-line, click here.

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