Every year on my birthday, I try to go and see a ballet. It’s the perfect thing to do on a cold January day, bringing a little sparkle and brightness to even the darkest winter evening. This year’s birthday celebration (I’ve just turned a hale and hearty 28, in case you’re wondering…) was Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella at Sadler’s Wells.
Bourne has become synonymous with doing things differently, and his much hyped take on Cinderella is no exception. Here, he takes the lead from Prokofiev’s romantic, yet darkly sombre score, composed in the 1940s, and transports the action to London in the Blitz. There’s a kind of desperate glitter and giddy gaiety to this fairytale set against a shadowy, desolate landscape of shattered buildings and bomb blasts. Cinderella is a mousy young girl, bullied by her stepbrothers and sisters, but especially by her stepmother: a Cruella-style vamp who struts the stage in a fur coat, downing gins. Her fairy-godmother (or indeed godfather in this case) is a glittering, silver-suited, platinum haired angel who arrives on a white motorbike, and orchestrates a romantic meeting with a wounded airman. But the lovers are separated in London’s dark streets, and struggle to find each other as they dance through a dark underworld of violence and wailing air raid sirens, in which time turns upside down and the lines between reality and hallucination become blurred.
Paying homage to everything from the tragic romance of Brief Encounter to the surrealism of the Powell and Pressburger classics of the 1940s (perhaps especially An Affair to Remember); Busby Berkley musicals to Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, this is a delightfully clever, as well as hugely enjoyable, production. I was inspired by the beautiful production design, especially the 1940s costumes. And in spite of the dark and disturbing threads woven through Bourne’s world of dancing air-raid wardens and raiding sirens, I loved the final happy ending: a tender, touching, jitterbug-joyous finale to the perfect birthday ballet.