Stiles and Drewe’s latest musical, Soho Cinders, takes the ever famous story of Cinderella and bases it in and around Old Compton Street in London, where Robbie, a young escort, has fallen for London mayoral candidate James Prince. This is a piece with a strong comedic touch but some overly sentimentalised moments, mainly in act two, don’t sit quite right and create some rather clunky, awkward dialogue.
George Stiles’ music is more contemporary than on previous shows and sits very well with the concept for the piece. This is very much contemporary musical theatre and not pop, which is refreshing to see. Whilst I wasn’t drawn into the opening number (‘Old Compton Street’) I really did love some of the music (particularly the beautiful duet ‘Gypsies of the Ether’, ‘They Don’t Make Glass Slippers’ and the unbelievably comical ‘I’m So Over Men’). Some of the show’s strongest moments come from Stiles and Drewe’s famous pairing for music and lyrics.
Overall, the casting is very good with Jenna Russell, Michael Xavier and Tom Milner giving strong and nuanced performances (Tom Milner’s easy, natural voice is particularly lovely for the role of Robbie and matches beautifully with Michael Xavier). I was also struck by Vivien Carter and Julian Hoult, in the ensemble, who caught my eye on several occasions with strong characterization and presence. Having said this, the stars of the show are indeed Suzie Chard and Beverly Rudd’s pantomimic ugly stepsisters who continually thrill and amuse. Not only is this a great pairing who work beautifully together, but both Chard and Rudd seem especially comfortable in front of an audience (even with underwear protruding all over the place). With a company that works so well together and creates very strong stage relationships, I was less impressed with Gerard Carey’s William George. Carey seemed to be uninvolved with his fellow performers and more focused on the audience, which gives the impression that he simply portrays what he created in the rehearsal room.
Morgan Large has created a set that interests and aids the action of the piece without being too fussy or distracting. I particularly liked how Large created the laundromat where two washing machines are wheeled on, chairs set in a row and two fluorescent bulbs flicker into existence. Hugh Vanstone’s lighting design also works very well at focusing the audience’s attention on specific areas of the stage whilst other scenes are set up.
There are definitely some good points to this show and it was an enjoyable evening but I believe that the book could be reworked to go down a less overly sentimental route and to revel more in what has been created previously. Relationships can be built from the action onstage; audiences don’t require the script to spell it out for them.
Soho Cinders is playing at Soho Theatre until 9 September. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.