Theatre Review: Cinderella // Birmingham Royal Ballet

Photo Credit: Birmingham Royal Ballet

David Bintley’s Cinderella, staged in 2010, has made it’s way out of the archives to add a little bit of magic to our current circumstances. With breath-taking staging, bold characterisation and flawless choreography, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s production of Cinderella is enchanting from beginning to end.

Whether through the Brother’s Grimm, Disney or Pantomime, most people are somewhat aware of the traditional tale of Cinderella. Following a young girl who lives with her wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters, following the death of her mother or father, Cinderella is desperate to go to the ball. But her stepmother forbids it. Luckily for her, she’s got a fairy godmother on her side who whisks her away in a gown and a carriage, letting her live her dream of meeting the prince. That is, only until the clock strikes midnight and after that, all the magic will dissipate.

Photo Credit: Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s adaptation opens on the bleak confines of Cinderella’s kitchen, providing the relevant backstory to the tale as we see Cinderella (performed by Elisha Willish) at her mother’s graveside before swiftly becoming the victim of her ugly stepsister’s insistent torment. We watch as Cinderella dances around the kitchen with her makeshift broom prince, dreaming for a day she can go to the ball. Setting up the production swiftly, the opening sequences relies heavily on audience’s awareness and understanding of Cinderella’s plight before quickly transitioning into the magic.

Where the production thrives the most is in John Macfarlane’s terrific set designs and the enchanting costumes. Contrasting the dimly-lit grime of the kitchen with the magnificently glittering displays of magic of the fairy godmother and her fairies, the production gives us anthropomorphic lizards, frogs, mice, and fairies dressed to match the seasons, all dancing with fluid lyricism and a beautifully designed glass carriage.

This is continued into the ball sequences where the white of the prince and Cinderella is juxtaposed with the dark rose red dress of the stepmother and the striped tights and custard yellow costumes of the ugly stepsisters. Imaginative and spectacular, the staging and costume design is incredibly detailed and intricately designed, smoothly transitioning between the servant girl and the magical princess. At the end of act two, we watch as a massive clock face takes centre stage. The cogs whir, and the smoke pours out into the ball as Macfarlane’s set emphasises that time is of the essence; Cinderella dashes from the ballroom to beat the midnight curfew.

Photo Credit: Birmingham Royal Ballet

The production is also successful in bringing to life the characters of the tale, primarily through costume and remarkably exaggerated choreography. This is particularly evident in the stepsisters who trip over in their pirouettes, almost anti-ballet in style, bringing light, comic relief to their evil nature. Bintley, for example, draws on slapstick humour as she floats across the stage, in pursuit of the cakes of the ball – or in this case, the oranges.

Then there is the prince, performed by the wonderful Iain Mackay. A radiant dancer, he commands the stage from his initial entrance, bringing confidence and passionate emotion with every step. His relationship with Cinderella is portrayed beautifully as the pair move together seamlessly, highlighting the emotional connection of the two lovers. Sadly, however, I disappointed with  Elisha Willis’ performance as the titular role. While an undeniably exceptional dancer, compared to the other characters, there lacked the clear characterisation and personality to the princess. Outshone by the rest of the cast, Cinderella becomes a side character in this adaptation.

The performance also falls short in the score. When working to build the tension, the music often felt out of place. For example, when Cinderella and the prince first meet, the music is dramatic and uncomfortably loud. Instead, I would have preferred a delicate, softer tone to better emphasise the couple’s connection. The lighting is also incredibly dark at times, particularly during the ballroom scenes.

Photo Credit: Birmingham Royal Ballet

Finally, the climax in scene two could perhaps have benefited from a touch more smoke, magic and sparkle. The audience looks on at the carriage for less than a second before we are whisked away to the ball. For such a magical and integral part of the story, the production seems to hold back at a moment where it could have gone that extra mile.

Overall, despite some setbacks, Cinderella is a charming, magical and entertaining performance, filled to the brim with outstanding set pieces and beautifully crafted costumes that you simply cannot take your eye off. With talented performances from the actors, you are drawn into the tale and the accompanying love story.

Words by Lucy Lillystone.

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