The Ella of this production (Lisa Kerr) is energetic and interesting, kitted out rather splendidly in bowler hat and sparkly boots. This, and the fact that she falls for an asthmatic, bird-watching prince, should be enough to signal that this delightful re-working of the Brothers Grimm tale is nothing like the sickly sweet and bland panto so often seen at this time of year.
Sally Cookson’s production gets to the heart of this classic story, offering the audience some great twists and turns along the way. The company of five play a multitude of characters, including ugly stepsiblings, royalty, and the contents of the Collins Bird Guide, charmingly created using bobble hats, paper cutouts and a variety of vocal sounds.
Music is central to the show. A live band, (Brian Hargreaves and Adam Pleeth) create a bluesy, folk vibe that’s both swinging and haunting. The lighting (Matthew Graham) is styled like a garden party ,with Chinese lanterns and fairy lights suspended above the audience and the stage. Puppets are used to great effect to show Ella growing up from a baby to a little girl, and the transition to adolescence, where she is brutally controlled by her stepmother, adds an edge to the play.
The show does have elements of panto, most notably its use of cross-dressing. Ella’s father (Craig Edwards) morphs slickly into her step-mother, who meets a rather grisly end at the hands (beaks) of the birds, and stepbrother Tom Godwin is forced into a party frock for the prince’s ball, to great amusement from the audience. There’s audience interaction, too – one of the funniest moments is Thomas Ecceshare’s prince clambering about the stalls in a bid to find some tips on marriage. His interactions with the audience bridge the gap between stage and stalls, and help develop his character.
This was not a straightforward ‘happily ever after’ story, (although admittedly that is what we got in the end). Tobacco Factory Theatre and Travelling Light have created a small but perfectly formed production that re-images the story of Cinderella in an exciting, energetic show that would be great at any time of year.
Cinderella: A Fairy Tale is playing at St James Theatre until 26tJanuary 2013. For more information and tickets, see the St James Theatre website.