BWW Review: CINDERELLA: A FAIRYTALE, The Jack Studio Theatre
A couple of years ago, Sally Cookson's Peter Pan at the National Theatre illuminated Christmas with a unique take on a familiar story, full of warmth and sly humour. Earlier, she and her collaborators had pulled off the same trick with Cinderella, now revived seven years on by Kate Bannister and presented in the intimate space of the Jack Studio Theatre. What a seasonal delight it proves to be!
There's more Grimm than Disney in this tale, with Cinders slaving for her evil stepmother and spoilt step-siblings but with her feisty self-belief and beloved birds to help her towards salvation. There's just enough grit in the oyster too (with some of the macabre elements of Ashenputtel preserved, if not gorily shown) to suggest that the youngest of kids might be a little scared, but post-primary school age should be okay. After all, the tale is not just about Cinderella's rise, it's also about the stepmother's fall.
And what an introduction we get to Bryan Pilkington's villainous woman, as beautifully rendered a transformation as I can recall in a theatre, all the more impressive for its immediacy and absence of special effects - a wee moment of theatrical magic. Pilkington in drag is over the top of course, but not to the extent of the caricature overwhelming the character - a balance that many productions fail to get right.
Molly Byrne is our Cinders, clever and resourceful, a little headstrong, but quick to learn, playing beautifully with Charlie Bateman's Prince, all posh boy bashfulness and Hugh Grantish charm. Their descriptions of simultaneously discovering the same disorientating pangs of teenage love will spark a memory or two for most in the audience.
Aimee Louise Bevan and Joel Black give us a stepsister / stepbrother duo in which the female character will be familiar but the male one less so, his boneheadedness not quite so ingrained as that of his sister, empathy slowly growing within him. Bevan also gets to play a Queen who has some characteristics of our own monarch, while Black gives a rather brilliant Ru Paulish demonstration of how a young lady should behave.
Come the end, despite the comeuppances dispensed to all, they seem to be living happily ever after - and you'll bounce away from this show happy too. In a year that needs its joy and glad tidings more than most, that's no bad way to end a chilly London evening.