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I managed to miss Sally Cookson’s production of Cinderella when it was in Bristol, despite living in Bath at the time. How great, then, to be able to catch it at the lovely Unicorn theatre in London – it really is a show not to miss.

Our heroine, Ella (Sarah Kameela Impey) is no damsel in distress. No glass slippers here; our heroine wears sparkly DMs. The whole cast of five work hard, playing all the characters plus various forms of bird-life – Ella makes friends with the birds and they come to her rescue when her stepmother is being especially evil. Philippe Spall, as both her gentle father and jolly nasty stepmother, is fab: properly, gleefully nasty as the stepmother and sweetly cuddly as Ella’s doting father.

Martins Imhangbe, as the stepbrother, also seems to be having a great time – when he’s forced to don a rather snazzy pink tutu, his face is an absolute treat. His tenative friendship with Ella is nicely handled (sweet without being sickly), as is his relationship with his fiercesome mother and greedy sister. Jessica Murrain is fun as the stepsister, picking on Ella and desperately hurling herself at the prince. Mark Kane is lovely as the asthmatic, nervous prince, and his tentative courting of Ella is rather sweet.

Benji Bowers, a stalwart of Bristol shows, has composed the music with his usual panache. A lovely bunch of jazzy blues numbers and more whimsical songs mix with heavier drum-lines to enliven the atmsphere and underscore the action. The song-and-dance numbers are good fun, too. The set is simple – some trees – but when the cast work as hard as these five do it doesn’t matter.

It’s a truly lovely production, but one word of caution: when they say 6+, they really mean it. Some more gruesome scenes (toes chopped off with a cleaver, eyes pecked out by angry birds) were accompanied by wails and sobs from the smaller children, and one was carried out clutching her mum and screaming “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no”, when the unfortunate stepsister has her toes lopped off. Definitely not one for the very young or the easily traumatised.

Ella’s friendship with the birds provides a lot of both magic and humour – simple bird puppets are mixed with the other four cast members squawking and waddling to great effect. Staged with immense wit and exuberence, Cookson’s production, with dramaturgy by Adam Pack, is a joy.

Cinderella is at the Unicorn until 5 January. For more information and tickets visit the Unicorn’s website.