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Theatre Review: Cinderella by Northern Ballet at Theatre Royal

22 November 19 words: Rebecca Buck

An original and magical take on the classic tale…

It is a happy, or potentially confusing, coincidence that the Northern Ballet have brought Cinderella to the Theatre Royal just over a week before the panto retelling of the rags to riches story takes to the same stage. We all know the story of Cinders, her Wicked Stepmother, the Fairy Godmother, Glass Slipper, and Prince Charming. Don’t we?

David Nixon’s original production, complete with understated but beautiful score composed by Phillip Feeney, pays its respects to the beloved fairy tale, but it is not afraid to tell it in its own way. The sisters are not altogether malicious, the Prince takes some convincing that he is really in love with a servant girl. In return, she must be persuaded to forgive him, and trust him. And there is no Fairy Godmother.

This is perhaps the biggest departure from the story we know, and one of the most brilliant. Cinderella’s magical guardian is a Magician, played in this performance by the dynamic Mlindi Kulashe. This character stands out from an array of excellent performances, for his dancing yes, but also for his comedy, his joy, his empathy, his wonderful swirling costume – and for orchestrating the very impressive finale to the first act, when Cinders escapes her kitchen and heads for the Ball.

The dancing is, of course, to a very high standard, and praise must go, in particular, to Antoinette Brooks-Daw as Cinderella, Sean Bates as the Prince and Minju Kang as the Stepmother. Captivating to watch and conveying character and emotion with their acting, nearly as well as they do with their expert dancing. But the whole cast is wonderful and multi-talented. Several display impressive circus skills – from juggling to performing as a dancing bear – and there is a magical scene where they perform skating on a glistening frozen lake very effectively, slipping and sliding gracefully back and forth.

The spectacle of the performance is not just in the dance, of course. Northern Ballet Sinfonia play perfectly and the set and costume design are truly magical. The setting, for this telling of the tale, is Imperial Russia, the scenery mostly conceptual rather than realistic. Costumes convey character perfectly and create a colourful, glittering picture that lingers long after the final curtain.

 David Nixon’s production has everything you want to see in a fairytale ballet just before Christmas. But it also has an emotional depth that is a credit to all involved. The intimate closing, as love blossoms, is not the grand finale wedding panto-goers will experience. It is a quiet duet, resonating with romance, but also relief. Ultimately, the story is that of a lonely, badly treated young woman who longs to be loved. The pain we have watched her suffer along the way, so elegantly and articulately conveyed through the dance, makes the happy ending all the sweeter.

A stunning ballet with far more emotional depth than expected. The Northern Ballet, once again, does not disappoint. 

Cinderella is at Theatre Royal until Saturday 23 November.

Theatre Royal website