Review – Cinderella – Lyric Hammersmith

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Warning: The Lyric Hammersmith’s Cinderella is NOT a panto, despite the title and the timing. Along those lines, it’s not entirely a family friendly show, certainly not for those under 8 and not at all if you don’t like your kids hearing words like “bitch” (the children around me gasped) and seeing people murdered on stage. This caused a great deal of embarrassment to me, as the five year old I brought with me ended the show crying inconsolably due to the particularly gory ending. But if you’re aware of all that …

Cinderella is actually the most imaginative retelling of this story I’ve ever seen and far exceeded my expectations for what this story could possibly be (although I was hoping for broad comedy, drag queens, bad puns, and a singalong with a lot more positive energy after spending eight hours looking at flats in South London). The format was of several fairy stories being told by Cinderella (Elizabeth Chan) and the various actors playing different characters (except for Cinderella herself). The staging was the usual “telling not showing stuff” (which can be unusual though it works better with small budget shows); the characters held little paper birds to represent the “snow pigeons,” a frame was held up in front of an actor to represent a picture, a variety of mannequins represented the numerous guests at the ball.

The acting generally felt highly stylized and wasn’t really about character development in any way; the actors were representing archetypes and conducted themselves appropriately. Fortunately, instead of the cartoony evil sisters, we had two girls (played by Katherine Manners, whose singing in Coram Boy struck me so, and Kelly Williams) who actually behaved like normal girls – afraid of their mom, wanting to make friends but not above pointing fingers to save themselves. While I was happy with them, I found Ms. Chan actually just a little too dreamy and high-archetype for the show – I wasn’t really able to be pulled in by her performance because she herself seemed so distant and two dimensional. Oddly, it seemed to be the Prince (Daniel Weyman) who did the most “acting” per se – though he was being a prince who had to act in order to deceive his mother, so perhaps this isn’t really a fair example.

The fun part of this production was, for me, seeing how the actors conveyed fairly dense theatrical visions with lightweight tools. This really came to fruition in the final scenes, which (if you haven’t read the Grimm original or don’t want a spoiler otherwise, best you stop reading now ….) required the sisters to cut off parts of their feet in order to fit into the shoes, and then later the entire “evil Stepfamily” had their eyes removed. A bit of red yarn and what looked like potatoes seemed to carry the deeds well enough (plus having them dropped into a bucket of water for effect), but my ability to enjoy this bit of theater (and it was really fun!) was terribly marred by the way it upset the little girl I’d invited to join us. She’d actually really enjoyed the entire show – I suspect all of the different stories were really catching her imagination – but this was just too much and I felt bad for having so crucially misjudged what was going to happen onstage that night. I enjoyed so much of it, including the non-standard musical accompaniment (Terje Isungset played bicycle wheels and icicles – pretty neat!), but I probably won’t be able to pull myself out of the funk caused by terrorizing a little girl for a while. On the other hand, the mistake did lead my husband to utter the immortal lines, “Look behind you! Oh, you can’t,” so it’s possible the rest of the group I was with had a good time in spite of this.

(This show is for the evening performance on Saturday, November 29th, 2009.)

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13 Responses to “Review – Cinderella – Lyric Hammersmith”

  1. Russbowes Says:

    What is worrying me (and teachers and professional storytellers and so on) is that, these days, children are growing up with highly sanitised versions of fairy tales – usually the twee Disney stuff where everyone gets a happy ending and cutesy talking animals abound. In their original versions by those such as Perrault and the Brothers Grimm, fairy tales are full of death and blood and guts (Cinderella’s sisters are indeed made to chop off parts of their feet, and have their eyes pecked out by ravens, Snow White’s evil stepmother is put into metal shoes that have been heating on the fire and is made to dance at Snow White’s wedding feast in them, the Little Mermaid has her tongue ripped out, and turns to foam at the end, and so on and so on). We actually forget that fairy tales were originally moral warnings to children and were meant to be scary, and that children do actually quite enjoy being frightened sometimes (and so do adults – why else was the rollercoaster invented?). So I think productions that go back to the original roots of the tales are to be commended. Its a shame that children are so swaddled in cotton wool with cutesy-poo stories these days that people worry about the psychological effects of a damned good scaring.

  2. webcowgirl Says:

    I don’t disagree with this but all I can say is watch the age range – this was not an appropriate performance for a child who is too young to understand that the evil stepmother’s eyes were not really being pulled out. If you had to listen to her cry for the next two hours you would understand what I mean. Part of the deal is that it’s much more visceral to see this than to just read it and in this case it was really just too much.

  3. Rogue Zentradi Says:

    Ouch.

    I think the problem here is that it’s hard to market this properly: parents see Cinderella and think “I can take the little ones” when in fact the show is aimed at a slightly more mature audience, sort of how like people always thought cartoons were for children until enough five year olds were mistakenly brought to Akira to make parents think twice. Of course, what each kid can handle varies from family to family, but I agree that the Lyric would have been well served to stick a “may not be for under 8’s” somewhere in the publicity.

    And yes, I agree with the above poster that if we raised our kids with the original stories there’s less chance of such trauma occurring, but children’s entertainment
    has been wussified for the last 30 years – people can’t die in TV cartoons, scary things have to be silly instead of genuinely frightening (remember the claymation Mark Twain from the 80’s? Or look at the difference between the 70’s and 00’s Willy Wonka films…) and it’s not good for anybody when reality starts smacking people down 10-15 eyars later as a result.
    For the grownups, however, would you recommend this for the same crowd who digs “Into the Woods” which also keeps the more bloody side of things in the text (albeit not onstage in most productions?) I’d been planning to avoid the Lyric’s family show after despising last year’s production, but your description makes it sound rather thrilling and a good counter to the aforementioned Sondheim opening at the end of the month in Highgate.

  4. webcowgirl Says:

    It was actually marketed as “above 8” but I thought this was going to be for overly intelligent content, not for graphic depiction of violence (not to mention the bad language).

    As for you, well, do go see it!

    (Oddly I have had nightmares both from Akira and from the original Willy Wonka – aren’t I a creampuff?)

  5. Judith Says:

    Many thanks for your review. I was thinking of taking an easily scared 6 year old, but won’t now. Thank you.

  6. Sarah Says:

    Hi all, just to say i saw this show last night and thought it was absolutely fantastic!! The theatre spefically states on all publicity for the show that it is for over 7’s, so I’m not surprised that a 5 year old didn’t enjoy it, although some little ones sitting near me seemed to love it! My advice is, if the publicity says over 7’s, then pay attention to this and don’t take younger children or use your discretion and make some enquiries before you go. I rang to ask about the content and the staff were extremely helpful. Parents simply need to pay attention to what the theatre advises, and after all, we know our own children so should be able to make the right call.
    I would heartily recommend this version of Cinderella – adults without children will love it too. It was original, thrilling, magical and a really wonderful experience.

  7. Exit, pursued by a bear Says:

    “I rang to ask about the content and the staff were extremely helpful. Parents simply need to pay attention to what the theatre advises”

    The lady speaks sense.

    Sorry WCG – having read my original post it comes across as a tad brusque which wasnt my intention. A good chat about what theatre is on the bus might perhaps have helped prevent the post-show trauma (along the lines of “Whatever you see, its not really real. Its just people pretending, and telling a story, so dont be frightened if theres something a bit nasty”) but I guess you’re right – we’ve been so conditioned over the last X years to tinkley-wee panto that its a shock when it turns out to be a bit more “in your face”. Of coure, now I’m dying to see this particular show! If its scaring the beejeesus out of little children, its for me!

  8. clive douglas Says:

    Why does the lyric’s show always cause controvesy!!!!???
    Because its the only way of getting people to it. it cant afford the names that panto audiences for the most part these days demand.and its always styled itself as xmas show for the illeligent child.i.e. little jocastas and orlandos mum and dads looking around for show thing minus soap stars to take the pretentious bratlings to. Im sure other people think the trauma of warhorse is a too hard sit for the kiddies. (when i went to that it was more the adults crying while the kids coped admirably as for the most part the resonance of the historical loss in the first great war washed over them as they didnt know too much about it. May i suggest what schools did in the old days with such shows ….somebody went to check content before the show was booked for the kids…………If not willing to do this just go and see something anodyne god knows theres enough crappy kids stuff abounding today and leave the shows with artistic guts and thrust too the kids who have been raised in reality and not in the blur of modern disneyfied cottonwool…….these are the kids who will have the trouble when they grow older with niavety and peril in the very real tough and violent world we all have the misfortune to share these days.

  9. webcowgirl Says:

    Well, obviously, among the things they aren’t worrying about much is bad spelling. And my bad for not doing better research beforehand but I do feel like the promotional material mis-sold this show.

  10. Russbowes Says:

    Sorry, WCG, for that ill-spelt (spelled?) rant left via my review site. The perpetrator has had my finger wagged at them and has been told not to do it again.

    BTW, I did leave a message earlier which doesnt seem to have appeared; as far as I can remember it went like this:

    “Sorry WCG – have just read my post and didnt mean it to sound quite so brusque. Perhaps, on the way to the theatre, a lighthearted chat about what theatre is would have been a good idea, along the lines of “its not really real, its people dressing up and telling a story, so if theres something a bit scary in it, remember that you dont have to be scared”. Of course, all this brouhaha has just made me want to see the show concerned now – if its reducing little children to tears, it sounds right up my street!”

  11. Interval Drinks Says:

    I saw this last week and the people hiding their faces during the feet/eye bits were quite often the parents, while the kids lapped it up. However I do think very small children might find it a bit much, as your post proves. I remember adoring a book of Slavic folk tales as a child in which all manner of nasty things happened to people, but reading is not the same as seeing something happen in front of you.

  12. Review - “It’s Behind You” - Union Theatre, Southwark « Webcowgirl’s Theatre Reviews Says:

    […] being used for a panto, especially on that was billed as “not for the kiddies” (as The Lyric Hammersmith’s Cinderella should have been). So off I went, adult companion by my side, to a Saturday afternoon performance […]

  13. Review – Cinderella – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House « Life in the Cheap Seats – Webcowgirl’s London theatre reviews Says:

    […] a lot less drama and unhappiness in this version (and certainly no chopping off of toes like in the Lyric Hammersmith’s rather too faithful play); indeed, with the gawky, cross-gender sisters, this version seemed to very much lean toward the […]

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