Any prince running around with a glass slipper in search of a bride should strike lucky this Christmas: there are a good many Cinderellas around. Perhaps in hard times, this wistful rags-to-riches story goes down particularly well. But it also poses a challenge to the 21st-century director faced with delivering a tale in which marrying a prince is the last word in aspiration and choosing a life-partner comes down to shoe-size. Two of London’s current Cinderellas take very different tacks to solve this dilemma, each coming up with a glowing family show.
At the Lyric, writers Joel Horwood and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm deliver a cracking pantomime, laced with irony and packed with visual gags, running jokes and quick-fire wordplay. Steven Webb’s spry Buttons is our guide, charming the young teens in the audience with his text-speak-emoticon-spiced asides, and the smaller folk by thwacking sweets around the auditorium with a tennis racket. There is a fabulous baddie in the shape of Mel Giedroyc’s wicked stepmother – “I need boos to get through this show,” she declares – and a dozy pair of Ugly Sisters.
Sean Holmes directs with relish, incorporating plenty of panto classics: participation, mess and deliberate corpsing by the cast. But in spite of all the daftness, there is room for magic. Julie Atherton’s Cinderella, though feisty, is also sweet and falls absurdly in love with William Ellis’s posh, well-meaning prince.
It’s an irreverent, mischievous romp through the tale, probably best for slightly older children: I took a deeply sceptical 11-year-old boy, who loved it.
At the Rose, Charles Way’s adaptation, by contrast, makes for a thoughtful, psychologically subtle telling of the tale. In Cinderella: The Midnight Princess, Way picks up on the midnight deadline at the ball and draws out a time theme. Here the heroine is a clockmaker’s daughter but, for her, time has stopped since her mother died. She is no sweet ingénue: still lost in her grief, Faye Castelow’s Cinderella is a truculent, volatile little customer who bites her new stepmother’s finger. In a nice bit of inversion, it is she who terrorises the stepsisters and, in Rachel Kavanaugh’s production, there is a lot of very recognisable domestic squabbling.
Indeed, Way emphasises the story’s preoccupation with families and growing up: Jack Monaghan’s prince struggles to defy his overbearing father. It’s quite a sophisticated Cinderella, prettily set in 18th-century Austria by designer Ruari Murchison, with a court musician who just happens to be Mozart (played with Puckish wit by William Postlethwaite). The comedy could be sharper but this is a rich, poignant account of the tale, finishing with a nice little twist to the shoe-fitting scene.
Cinderella, Lyric Hammersmith
Cinderella: The Midnight Princess, Rose, Kingston