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Thursday 13th December 2007
Christmas Theatre Review | CINDERELLA | Theatre Royal Stratford East

Production: Cinderella
Playwright: Trish Cooke & Robert Hyman
Producer: Theatre Royal Stratford East
Venue: Theatre Royal Stratford East
Address: Gerry Raffles Square, Stratford, London E15 1BN
Box Office: +44 (0)800 183 1188
Dates: 1 December 2007 - 19 January 2008
Opened: 11 December 2008
Buy Theatre Tickets from Ticketmaster
Reviewed by Howard Loxton

If you ever need someone to warm up an audience then Darren Hart is your man. His Buttons does a wonderful job of welcoming the audience, having us eating out of his hand in no time at all. You certainly would not have known that, near the end of the earlier matinee, he'd lost his voice and had been carefully resting it between the shows. I was tactfully asked to make allowances but he didn't seem to be making any himself, filling the theatre with his energy. His final number of the evening was perhaps a little strained but I wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't been warned. Like Kat (now at the Hackney Empire), with whom he was paired as the Dromios in the Theatre Royal's Da Boyz), he keeps the show in motion. At Stratford, though, that vitality is just as strong right through the cast, flourishing on street-wise dialogue and lively choreography supported by a score that keeps the audience foot-tapping throughout.

The writers give a new take on the old story. The hard-up Baron is an unsuccessful abstract painter, his new wife his apparent benefactor until the cheques start to bounce. Ella puts up with things because she wants to make her father happy and, after an early street encounter, isn't that keen on the Prince. He doesn't want to get married either, but his mother insists: marry or lose your royal privileges, the Royal Rule Book says. Meanwhile his mate Don Dini wants to saddle him with an ugly sister who won't endanger his buddy status.

The setting is a French Caribbean island kingdom. The Fairy Godmother (Debbralee Wells) who is Cinder's dead real mother, seeding rain clouds in the sky, is heavily accented. You may have to listen hard, and there is street talk for the oldies to keep up with, but it's really quite easy to follow and you can't help joining in the fun especially with a participation song that is vitally necessary to prevent the Prince from making a mismatch.

This is a show for all the family, except perhaps the very teeniest tots, and the writing decidedly embraces teenage and ethnic audiences. It is traditional without being stereotypical. There's no cross-gender Principal Boy in tights in fact, it is Michael Bertenshaw's Stepmother who has the lovely legs. He makes a splendid Dame, as he has done so often before at this address, haughty and common at the same time. You could never describe her/his daughters (Sharona Sassoon and Catherine Millsom) as ugly sisters but selfish, yes, and lacking dress sense. Kyl Messios is Prince Leo, hip-swivelling eye candy for young ladies, with Marcus Ellard as his constant companion and Debbie Korley playing a strong-willed Ella without losing any of her charm.

This is a show that is sheer delight from start to finish. What could easily have been cut-out figures from fairy tale are given real personality by their performers. Even tight-lipped Queen Eugenie (Ellen O'Grady) can cut a dash and give it a whirl with Royce Ullah's Baron.

Simply but effectively mounted and kept continually bubbling by the direction, this is a show which never milks audience reaction. The whole thing is a shared experience which the cast seem to enjoy just as much as those out front. With a top price of 16 (19 Saturdays and holidays, reductions for children and concessions) you won't get West End lavish spectacle but you will get vibrant theatre and a perfect Christmas outing. My advice? Book now.

Howard Loxton 2007

 
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