Tuesday, April 23

Cinderella – Storyhouse Chester

I couldn’t have loved this production of Cinderella at Chester’s Storyhouse more: pyrotechnics, smoke-filled bubbles, balloons, more costume changes than the Oscars, Disco Goblins like a pod of Megaminds in silver turbans and steampunk goggles, and some absolute bangers belted out by the multitalented cast who can not only sing and dance but can apparently play cello and sax too … it’s a sensational feast of high energy and feel-good.

But to begin at the beginning: the light, bright and very beautiful set is immediately arresting. Colour-changing globes hang from the ceiling like so many glass floats, each representing a fairytale to be told. Melinda Orengo’s Fairy Godmother appears, wearing lamé tassels and looking like the lovechild of the Great Gatsby and a disco Pocohontas, and encourages the audience to help her choose one, plucking it from the air like a daydream – ethereal, fragile, precious.

With the spell cast, we have entered the land of willing disbelief, and the fun can start but from this beginning the idea of choice is introduced: just as we have chosen this tale, Cinderella can choose her story.

It’s a clever and timely contrivance. The stock characters are here yet they’re allowed to transcend their traditional roles. Both Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother are treated to back-stories to plump up their personae. Mali O’Donnell’s Cinderella is wistful but not wet, with sweet and limpid vocals betraying Ella’s secret sadness and inner strength. And the Fairy Godmother discovers that not only is she telling the story but that she can change it too.

If this is sounding a bit high-fallutin’, fret not, for there is much to engage even the smallest tot and the show is heavy on pop (Elton, Abba, B52s) and light on innuendo. Cinderella enters wearing something apparently cut from Mr. Tumble’s Spotty Bag before twirling into the original air blue gown. Enormous mice fling sweets into the audience and the crew are liberal with the bubbles. The live music is accompanied by often hilarious choreography, not least from spaghetti-limbed Lewis Griffin as the Prince.

John Holt-Robert’s fabulous King Roger, like a ginger Elvis gone to seed, in his velour tracky pants with KING embroidered on the bum, was somehow reminiscent of the regent in Tony Ross’s Little Princess, where the royal family are rendered ordinary, albeit crown-wearing, folk. Quite why hereditary rulers should be at the top of the pile is gently sent up by writer Samantha O’Rouke, both visually in stepsister Lulu’s hilariously outsized fascinator à la Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, and within the dialogue.

But best of all we have a baddie, played with buxom relish by the wonderful Susannah Van Den Berg in beltingly good voice, so plenty of opportunity for booing.

The second half of the show takes a slightly Shakespearian turn as the script deviates from the expected and we find our protagonists lost in the woods. Designer Jacob Hughes conjures up ingenious tree trunks from what look like flexible ducting and the production peaks with a Hogwarts inspired spell-off before unspooling into the inevitable coupling up.

In common with a rival Cinderella at the Everyman in Liverpool, some of the conventions of fairytale have been turned on their heads: hence Cinderella is not necessarily looking for a prince, her sisters are not ugly or particularly mean or played by blokes in frocks, and happy-ever-after isn’t just for heterosexuals. But whereas at the Everyman the queer is clunky and posited, here it is understated and natural. And (almost) everyone gets a happy ending.

Playing until 6th January 2024, https://www.storyhouse.com/whats-on/cinderella/

Reviewer: Miranda Green

Reviewed: 6th December 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.