Posts Tagged ‘Cinderella’

December theater mini-reviews – Donmar “Richard II” and Hackney Empire “Cinderella”

December 24, 2011

Santa is leaving nothing for me in my stocking because I’ve been neglecting my theater blog. There’s been so much to see, and I’ve traveled so much (with indulgent trips to Birmingham for “The Nutcracker” and Leeds for “Beauty and the Beast”) that actually getting words on paper (or whatever I’m doing right now) has not been happening. So there’s probably 8 shows I’ve seen this much that I’ve neglected to write up. However, I’m going to try to get reviews up for a few of them that are still open: just be advised I’m doing this in an airport with limited internet access and no programs to reference for actors’ names.

First, the Hackney Empire’s “Cinderella.” Hackney has been the gold standard for pantos for me: aimed at the kids, affordable for families, with an excellent atmosphere that helps me be a kid, too. But they’ve shot over the top with the incredible skills of their dame, Clive Rowe, and the clever songwriting skills and script (full of political jokes and local references) that have made every dusty old fairytale fresh and fun.

I had my worries about “Cinderella” as Clive was taking the year off. What would we do without his wisecracks, amazing improv talents, and fabulous voice? According to a friend, Cinderella doesn’t actually need a dame as the mom is played by a woman, while it’s the stepsisters who do the drag duties. I’m pleased to say that the voices were on and the stepmom was a delicious villain, but a lot of the snap had gone. The improv (from the sisters) was soft (they apologized for going off script, whereas I thought they should have revelled in it!), the references to Hackney were few, and the only real political jokes I heard were references to phone hacking and the difficulty of getting Olympics tickets. Sure, it was good, but I just couldn’t get my enthusiasm up to the wild levels of the past even with front row tickets. Apparently “Aladdin” at the Lyric Hammersmith is the one to beat, but I won’t get to see it. That said, this is still a good show and lacking in the nauseating commerciality I’d seen at some more upscale venues, so I can recomend it as a family afternoon or evening out … and they do need our support. *sigh* PLEASE CAN WE HAVE CLIVE BACK NEXT YEAR? (This show was seen on Wednesday, December 15th, 2011.)

Next up is Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. Wonderfully, this was a show I didn’t know at all, so I had NO idea how it was going to end: history plays, to what extent are they comedies and to what extent tragedies? It was a typical Donmar set (dark floor, balcony above) but with bonus incense filling the room and a lovely churchy-gold-wood thing going on that helped illustrate Richard’s point about the divinity of kinghood. I thought this was a good insight into the medieval soul as well as some of the core issues that have continued to dog English politics – the peasants will love you as long as you kiss their ass and don’t take too much from their purses. That said, Richard II himself was a queer bird and seemed just bizarrely affected in a way that was possibly meant to indicate impending madness but that came off as “I’ve just come out of acting school and this is the “method” I’ve chosen for this role, you will of course go with it.” I found it off-putting, but with a strong cast, and, hey, Shakespeare, plus ten quid tickets, it was certainly worth my time. Not worth standing the whole evening, mind you, but a great way to knock out a history. Someday perhaps Propeller will do it and then I’ll see what they can really achieve with this script. (This show was seen on Wednesday, December 12th, 2011).

Both of these shows are certainly worth a gander though neither blew my socks off – I’ve really only been reviewing shows I have a lot to say about. Anyway, call ’em serviceable. (Richard II continues at the Donmar through February 4th, 2012; Cinderella through January 8th, 2012.)

Half priced deal for Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new Cinderella at London Coliseum – 2011

March 24, 2011

Today the Metro published a half priced deal for tickets to the Birmingham Royal Ballet‘s new production of Cinderella while it’s at the London Coliseum this spring (March 29- Saturday April 2nd, 2011). There isn’t a lot of availability on key dates (i.e. no stalls seats on Friday April 1st), but it is good for every evening show on every level of seats except for the £10 ones. This is really an outstanding value – an excellent company and no being forced to buy top priced seats!

Details are: either call the ENO box office (0871 472 0800) and quote the Metro offer or go to this page for details (basically use the code “buttons” on the page showing the seats you selected), pick your seats and off you go!

Review – Matthew Bourne’s 2010 “Cinderella” – Sadler’s Wells Theatre

December 9, 2010

Last night I went to see Matthew Bourne’s radical updating of Cinderella at Sadler’s Wells. The conceit of the whole show is that it is London during the Blitz; Cinderella (Kerry Biggin, I think, rather than Mikah Smillie) is the forgotten child of a family of six, with two stepsisters and three stepbrothers, including one I would call “grabby” as he constantly making a move toward Cinders (a problem NOT in any version of this story I’d seen before!). Rather than a ball, the family is heading out to the Cafe de Paris nightclub; rather than a prince and a castle, we have an airman (Sam Archer, I believe) and the promise of a life rather more mundane than fairytale (but happy nonetheless).

Still, Bourne fixes clearly on the important emotional elements are: the feeling of being excluded; the desire to be wanted; a chance to experience the admiration of others after a lifetime in the shadows; the attempt to fix a “near miss” at love. A dance and shoes seem to be required for flavor, but a fancy coach is gone. The father element has become more tragic with his transformation into a man confined to a wheelchair. Overall, the magical elements have been pulled away and a painful, yet believable, story is left behind. Panto drag stepsisters gone? I say hurray; this kind of comedy is a distraction to the story.

The ballet is in three acts. It starts slowly with the character-setting first act. Our evil stepsisters are glamorous 40s debutantes; the very wicked stepmother (Michela Meazza, looking like she does in every Bourne show) is an alcoholic Joan Crawford type who really seems to be seconds away from pulling out a wire hanger; the brothers are in term lewd, louche, and mommy-fixated. There is a burst of energy as invites to a dance arrive; but it’s actually far more exciting when an injured airman shows up seeking shelter. This isn’t a part of the story we expect, and it adds a real edge: where did he come from? When is he going to appear again? Since when does the stepmother go for Cinderella’s love interest? The dancing itself in this act is forgettable, aside from the bit when Cinderella tries to dance with her paraplegic father and her dance with the mannequin/Prince substitute. It’s a relief when the fairy shows up and spirits her out of her house and into the rubble-strewn streets of London; I found we spent far too much time in her stifling house and were not nearly entertained enough while we were there.

Act two is the voyage to and arrival at the ball. Some of the best lighting design comes as Cinderella and the Airman find and lose each other in the darkened streets of Blitz London; street patrols illuminate and block them as they rush back and forth trying to find each other. They finally wind up together at the Café de Paris, which the program notes is “Cinderella’s dream and nightmare:” look up the history of this place (it’s in the notes) if you need to know why. I found all of my ability to enjoy the spectacle of dancing overwhelmed by the heavy weight of impending death as I waited for the bomb to strike the restaurant. It changes the whole feeling of this scene from anything it was before to a Masque of the Red Death, rather than Cinderella’s triumph; she escapes, alive, with the man she loves, but with the rest of the dancers dead (apparently the band leader had his head blown off in real life, I found myself very creeped out by this), there’s no joy in it. I was also very confused by how she went from mousy brown to a platinum blonde in this scene, though I just loved her glamorous white gown.

Act three has the best design of the show, with a delicious hospital ward created by a glowing red cross hovering in the air and white curtained panels moved around by doctors and nurses. The Airman is searching for Cinderella, which gives us the opportunity for a rather salacious scene in a prostitute-filled Tube station as well as a violent encounter on the Embankment; truly, in war, all the rules of morality have gone by the wayside, and anyone can be a victim. Eventually, as required, we have our reunion for the two lovers; deliciously, the stepmother is taken to jail. We finish at a train station, bidding goodbye to the newlyweds while the fairy finds another person needing some magic in their lives.

It’s taken me rather a lot of time to chew through how I felt about this production and whether or not I thought it worth recommending. During it I found myself feeling very distant from the action on stage; I was never caught up by the dance, even though I enjoyed thought the solos of the fairy (actually referenced as “the angel” in the program, and because there was no cast sheet I can’t say for certain who was playing it the night I saw it) . I did, however, love the set, lighting, and luscious 40s costuming; the grey palette (a deliberate homage to black and white movies) felt less like a pushy design decision and more like something that caught the austerity and gloom of war-time London. Ultimately, I think, I’m going to say yes to this Cinderella, not just because it is beautiful, but because its reworking of the story, its Bourne-ian deconstruction to the heart of the matter, succeeds better in telling the tale than any straightforward rendition would have. It showed me a new side of the classic, and, while I would have preferred more dancing, I left feeling like I’d managed to pick up a little more magic in the air than there had been before I went in the room. Who would think that by removing nearly every bit of unreality from this story Bourne would create something more universal than what he started with? It’s not perfect, but it’s a good night of theater, and my guess is that as a Cinderella, I’ll be thinking of this story much longer than any version with gawping comedy stepsisters stomping around on the stage and making a spectacle of themselves, because it’s not, after all, their story; it’s hers.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, December 7th, 2010. Cinderella continues at Sadler’s Wells through January 23rd, 2011. For a more positive view, see Judith Mackrell in The Guardian; for one capturing my frustration with the dance, see the always eloquent Clement Crisp of the Financial Times.)

Review – Cinderella – Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House

April 11, 2010

Boaters have their annual opening day, but ballet and opera fans have one of their own: first day of sale for the general public for the season at the Royal Opera House. It’s a bit of a madhouse, with the ROH computers inevitably maxing out their capacity and the lucky ones merely having a sign on the computer saying “You are 1263rd in line. This page will continue to refresh. You are 1239th in line. This page will continue to refresh,” while you sit there going completely crazy imagining everyone is stealing all of the good seats while you are stuck in the ROH equivalent of purgatory, waiting for that magic moment when the page finally refreshes to show the normal calendar. It’s particularly maddening because most of the other pages on the ROH website are blanked out at the same time, so you can’t see any details about the various performances that are for sale so that you can prepare yourself (if you haven’t already done so, possibly with a paper copy of the season schedule): what will you want to buy when your time finally comes?

For me the whole thing becomes like one of those contests involving mad dashes through a grocery store, tossing as many things in your basket as you can before the time runs out and your golden opportunity is lost. When my number came up for the spring season, the “meat” aisle for me was “35 quid main floor tickets for Royal Ballet Triple Bill featuring Wayne Macgregor!” But then I still had some time left, and I went and poked around the rest of the season to see what the Royal Ballet had on offer. “La Fille Mal Gardee?” It looked (and was) cute. “Cinderella?” I’d never seen it before, and look, the first performance was on a Saturday, at 12:30, making it cheaper and easier to attend than a weeknight performance. In the basket it went, and off to the ballet I went yesterday, freshly back from my Easter travels and basically utterly ignorant of what I was going to see.

My faith was well rewarded. We started with a beautiful score by Prokofiev – I’d never heard it, although I like his music quite a lot, and as we settled down into our “normal” amphitheater seats (slightly blocked view, little leg room, great price), I caught the gorgeous, skilled notes of one of the three masters of ballet music composition. The choreography was by Frederick Ashton, one of the two men whose style is a touch point of the entire Royal Ballet style and repertoire, but someone whose work I am still just learning about. I knew as an “Ashton,” this meant it was likely to be rather old feeling (at least 40 years), and that the costumes might be just a wee bit on the dusty side, but my guess was that it was all going to feel very classical and “just right,” exactly what you want for a story ballet.

The setup itself is a bit different than the Cinderella I have in my head (which nowadays is a thin pastiche of the old fairly tale over a thick chunk of Disney, the whole thing wrapped in a ribbon of English Panto). We open with Cinderella (Alina Cojocaru) in front of her fireplace, stepsisters (Luke Heydon, Wayne Sleep) sitting nearby acting crudely, with no stepmother in sight (I thought the taller one was the mother based on how familiar she was with Mr. Ella, but per the program it was just the sisters), and a loving but witless father (Christopher Saunders) who couldn’t seem to stop his daughters from spending what little is left of his fortune. A noticeably missing character is the “evil” stepmother; her absence means there was 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 Panto tradition, with lots of hamming, clumsy goofball dancing bits involving the Uglies, and jokes (in pantomime) about how ugly they actually are – plus the requisite stunningly heinous dresses. I’m glad I’ve been to enough Panto to “get” them; my guess is that for non-English audiences, the production’s emphasis on these two characters might have been confusing.

But we also had lots of ballet fun, especially in the drawn-out scene in which Cinder’s fairy godmother (Laura Morera) whisked her away to the “land of the fairies” (not a scene I remember from any other version!), where four fairies representing four different seasons do lovely little dances capturing the spirit of their seasons, with a cute boy and girl in appropriate costume accompanying them (reminding me of 18th century English country paintings); award for most brilliant costume had to go to icicle-gauntleted Winter (Hikaru Kobayashi), whose entrance in a cloud of smoke was truly dramatic. That said, Cinderella’s transformation was a little less than wow, and the pumpkin just seemed to be begging for Robert Wilson to get a hold of it (in fact I propose he design ROH’s new version of it in another 3 years – this one is due for a face lift) even though the pretty boy-drawn carriage that showed up to carry her away did seem most ethereal.

Then we’ve got the fun of act 2, set at court where the jester (Paul Kay) makes more of an impression than anyone else; our prince (Rupert Pennefather) winds up feeling a bit of a cipher next to him, especially with the Uglies parading around with two mismatched “suitors” (Gary Avis, Michael Stojko) in a rather heavy-handed scene I felt tired out its welcome long before it left. (The same sort of gag was done much less painfully in “Elite Syncopations.”) Cinders finally shows up, the prince falls in love, they dance, it’s midnight, we duck out for some ice cream, and in two shakes of a lamb’s tail (and 25 minutes of interval) the star-spangled toe shoe is reunited with its owner (who has to hurry off stage to actually get some tied on properly) and BANG it’s over. Two intervals, 3:10 running time, WHOOSH it’s done before you know it!

I’m afraid to say that throughout most of this ballet, I was having such a good time and being so enchanted by the show that I just utterly forgot to put my reviewer hat on and took no notes whatsoever of the performance (other than to tell myself that I must learn more proper ballet terms so I can discuss things properly with Those In The Know). Alina Cojocaru was just sweet and breathless (and apparently weightless) as Cinderella, reminding me of how incredibly spoiled I am to be able to expect such excellence in both dancing and characterization simply by virtue of having bought a ticket for this great company. Rupert Pennefeather, well, he doesn’t even show up until Act II, does he, and he doesn’t have too much to do – I don’t think the prince’s choreography was nearly as excellent as it could have been (I never had the “wow” feeling I did today while watching a selection from Don Quixote), but he carried the role well. And, damn, if there’s ever a ballet that makes little girls wish they could be ballerinas, it would be Cinderella, and with this score I have to say, it made me glad to live in a city where such riches at these are forever at my doorstop. A most excellent afternoon and highly recommended.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, April 10th, 2010. It continues through June 5th. Remember, ballet doesn’t have to be expensive; my amphitheater seats were great, though I was so distracted by the costumes I found myself wishing I was sitting much closer. For another view, please see The Arts Desk.)

Two for one deals on Christmas shows (mostly pantos) courtesy of the Evening Standard

December 5, 2008

Well! Today’s Eros cardholders email included a list of great two for one deals on various holiday shows. I noticed the Hackney Empire’s “Mother Goose” isn’t on the list, but given that seats are already quite affordable, who cares? On the other hand, the New Wimbledon Theater’s Cinderella is runing £30 a seat – outrageous! Anyway, here are a list of the deals, with details – the original page is here.

Aladdin, The Rosemary Branch, N1 ,Offer valid 17-22, 27-31 December and 2-4, 6-11 January 7.00pm. Tickets: £15 (£12 concessions). Matinees 20, 21, 27, 28 December, 3, 10 January 2.30pm. Tickets £12 (£8 under 16). Offer is valid for shows from Wednesday 3 December – Sunday 11 January. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 7704 6665 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Amazonia, at the Young Vic, SE1 (I’m going to see this one!): Offer valid on shows from Wednesday 3 December- Saturday 24 January. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 7922 2922 and quote Evening Standard Offer. (Looks like normal prices are £10 to £22.50, so a good deal!)

Cinderella at The Churchill Theatre Bromley Offer valid for the following shows: 10 Dec 7.30pm, 13 Dec 7.30pm, 15 Dec 7.30pm, 19 Dec 7.30pm, 20 Dec 10.30am, Tickets £18-£25. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 0870 060 6620 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Cinderella at the New Wimbledon Theatre, SW19. Mon 15 – Sat 20 Dec – all 2pm and 7pm performances. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 0870 060 6646 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Dick Whittington at the Queens Theatre Hornchurch, RM11. Offer valid for shows from Wednesday 3 December – Saturday 10 January. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 01708 443333 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Hansel & Gretel, Theatre Royal Stratford East, E15 Offer valid for shows from Wednesday 3 December- Saturday 17 January. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 8534 0310 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Mirror Magic Market Tales, The Riverside Studios, W6. Offer valid on shows from Wednesday 3 December- Sunday 4 January. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 8237 1111 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Pinocchio, at The Polka Theatre, SW19. Offer available for the following shows: 6 Dec 5.30pm, 30 Dec 11am, 31 Dec 11am, 2 Jan 11am, 3 Jan 5.30pm, 17 Jan 5.30pm. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 8543 4888 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

The Nightingale Mystery at The Rosemary Branch, N1 Offer valid on shows from Wednesday 3 December- Wednesday 10 December. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office 020 7704 6665 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Tombstone Tales & Boothill Ballads at Arcola Theatre, E8 (I want to see this one too, but I don’t know when I can possibly fit it in!) Offer is valid for shows from Wednesday 3 December – Saturday 20 December 2008. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 7503 1646 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Twelve Days of Christmas at the Chickenshed Theatre, N14. Offer is valid for shows from Wednesday 3 December- Saturday 17 January. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 8292 9222 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Young Dick Barton, The Warehouse Theatre, Croydon. Offer valid for shows from Wednesday 3 December – Sunday 22 February. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 8680 4060 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Review – Cinderella – Lyric Hammersmith

November 30, 2008

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.)

Stephen Frye’s Cinderella at the Old Vic

December 26, 2007

I don’t want to indicate all we’ve done is eat for the last three days, but my tendency now is to talk about having biscuits and gravy for breakfast and then sausage and booooooze (I mean butterbean gratin) for dinner.  Food food food, eat eat eat! This is probably because today is a holiday in England and you can’t really do much because most of the shops are closed and public transportation is limited. I managed, though, thanks to the Tube and to having tickets bought long ago for … Stephen Frye’s Cinderella at the Old Vic, which we saw this afternoon. In short: you’ll get more panto kick at Dick Whittington’s Cat at the Hackney, and this show is very rude but not that funny.

Oh, gosh, my tummy is so full, it’s just hard to focus on writing right now! Okay, write write write … we had pretty good quality acting overall for this show – the background dancers were all on time and on key, and the costumes looked quite well done and not the least bit tacky. We also had a reappearence of “Man in Chair” as our narrator. That said … it was all a little … too good. This was SERIOUS panto, that was taking itself VERY seriously, and people just didn’t have enough room to be silly. All of the panto “elements” seemed a bit forced – the pie fight had no context, the singalong was not even tied into the theme of the show (in any way), and the audience talk-backs were … quick and perfunctory. Yay, we mocked Cinderella for being just too good for her health, yay, Buttons was gay …. but where were my drag queens, where were my fun and goofy songs? Where were the outrageous costumes? Where was my camp? Where were my tears of “it’s just too much” chortles? Instead we got many little political (and other) inside jokes … but it all seemed to come at the expense of what it is that makes panto fun. At least when you write for an 8 year old you can write with abandon. Cinderella wanted to be clever but seemed to forget how to laugh. Yes, yes, the basket of food had the missing data CDs, now where’s my corny pun? Where’s my OTT costumes?

At any rate, while my visiting Canadian guest found it absurd and enjoyable, I just felt like it could have been much sillier and more raucous and was disappointed. If you’re only doing one panto and you’re looking for a good time rather than being intellectually tickled (and not very hard at that), head to the Hackney Empire instead. I mean – they have monkeys! What more can I say?