[Photo: Bill Cooper]
Birmingham Royal Ballet
The Lowry, Salford Quays
Until Saturday 4th March, 2017
First staged at the Birmingham Hippodrome back in 2010, director and choreographer David Bintley’s sumptuous production of Prokofiev’s celebrated ballet – superbly designed by John F. Macfarlane and exquisitely lit by David A. Finn – quickly grew to become one of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s finest and best loved productions.
Be it through Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Disney, Pantomime or one of the countless other adaptations of the story, everyone will be somewhat familiar with the rags to riches tale of Cinderella, Prince Charming and her antagonistic in-laws. Prokofiev’s version is however one of the most effective and best structured, stripping off a lot of the unnecessary padding to retain only the most essential elements of a very well-trodden plot.
Visually beautiful, traditionally staged and about as family friendly as ballet gets, David Bintley’s enchanting and fully accessible production is very much a character driven affair, relying heavily on characterisation and comedy to draw in and grip the wide-ranging audience it attracts.
Opening in the bleak confines of Cinderella’s (Jenna Roberts) dank and grimy kitchen – following a dimly lit opening vignette of her mother’s funeral – Bintley and Macfarlane’s staging instantly evokes a strong and poignant sense of longing and isolation, juxtaposing the grim reality of the room with the artificial warmth of Cinderella’s whimsical dreams of dancing around the room with her makeshift broomstick prince (and of course the later events) to great effect.
Enter the squabbling Skinny (Samara Downs) and Dumpy (Laura Purkiss), Cinderella’s two ugly step-sisters, followed closely by her cold, calculating ‘wicked’ stepmother (Marion Tait), whose disdain for the poor girl – now reduced to the role of servant in her own home – again grounds her lyrical escapism with the cruel reality of the real world.
After a highly comedic sequence depicting the sisters’ frantic preparations for the ball – aided by hairdressers, dressmakers and even a dance master, to name just a few – Yvette Knight’s Fairy Godmother is soon on hand to lead the despondent Cinderella into one of the tale’s most famous sequences. Set against a glittering night sky backdrop, a variety of anthropomorphic creatures (lizards, mice and frogs) transform her from shabby servant girl to the belle of the ball in visually arresting style.
It is a truly beautiful scene, bursting with colour, charm and elegant choreography, though the brief appearance of the carriage, set far too far upstage, sadly lacks the big impact finish the Act I finale (and the preceding action) really deserves.
Cinderella’s arrival at the ball and first meeting with William Bracewell’s Prince Charming is however the production’s finest hour, and their breathtaking Act II pas de deux in the grounds of the palace is truly exceptional.
Cleverly assembling towards the finale of the Act, Macfarlane’s imposing steampunk-style mechanical clock is one of the real design highlights of the piece, and rounds out the scene perfectly.
Jenna Roberts proves a wide-eyed, radiant and extremely elegant Cinderella, beautifully traversing the various stages of her journey, and demonstrating great chemistry with the charismatic Bracewell’s heroic and athletic Prince.
Bintley goes for a more metaphorically ugly, chalk and cheese approach with the sisters than the outwardly grotesque pantomime style most will be familiar with. Laura Purkiss certainly takes top marks in the comedy stakes for her brilliant performance as the unrefined Dumpy, though Samara Downs’ Skinny is far too polished and never quite nasty enough to truly earn the title of ugly stepsister.
Despite moments of joyous perfection, a number of technicals issues (fall-outs, timing issues) do hamper things slightly, and loud, clunky scene changes during some of the quieter moments do prove a little intrusive.
Whilst far from the most technically daring production in Birmingham Royal Ballet’s repertoire, Cinderella is nevertheless a charming, magical and thoroughly entertaining work, bursting with visual gimmicks, spectacular scenery, glorious costumes and strong performances.
As always, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia are on magnificent form under the baton of conductor Philip Ellis.
Act I – 40 minutes (approx.)
Interval – 20 minutes
Act II – 46 minutes (approx.)
Interval – 20 minutes
Act III – 24 minutes (approx.)
Total: 2 hours and 30 minutes (approx.)
Final Performance at The Lowry: Saturday 4th March, 2017.
For more information and to book tickets, please Click Here.