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Cinderella: A Fairytale at The Jack Studio Theatre | Review

Cinderella: A Fairytale
Cinderella: A Fairytale

Well, it’s pantomime time once more and as excited youngsters head off to the traditional Christmas entertainment, not many of them will give thought to the history of this particular theatrical genre. I mention this, as one of the most popular pantos is also one of the oldest, dating back in one form or another to the story of Rhodopis, recounted by the Greek geographer Strabo around 7 BC, about a Greek slave girl who marries the king of Egypt. Over 2,000 years later, I found myself heading over to the Jack Studio Theatre in Brockley for the latest version of the story as Cinderella: A Fairytale opens for the festive season.

Now, this is no ordinary version of the classic story. Young Ella (Molly Byme) is a girl who spends as much of her time as possible in the woods round her house, communicating with the birds that live there, who have become her only friends since the death of her father. Her home life is not great thanks to her stepmother (Bryan Pilkington) and her two step-siblings (Joel Black and Aimee Louise Bevan) who treat her like a servant and continually put her down. Then one day, Ella meets a stranger (Charlie Bateman) with a birdwatching book out in the words. The young man seems a bit out of place in the woods but the two people manage to have a sort of conversation over the study of birds. As they part, the boy invites Ella to the Royal Ball at the palace the next evening. Could this be Ella’s chance to meet her own Prince Charming and escape her horrible family or will her stepmother have something to say in the matter?

This version of Cinderella is definitely different. Whilst the basics of the story – a downtrodden girl does good – are present, there are some nice differences. For example, thanks to some lovely puppetry (credit to Will Pinchin), we get to see Ella growing from a baby to an adult and learn more about her personality as it develops. Molly Byrne doesn’t play Ella as too much of a victim, and there is a wonderful scene where she tricks her step-brother and sister into working for her. When she meets the stranger – and let’s be honest, we all know that’s the Prince – she is not overawed and is happy to laugh at him. In fact, the scenes between Molly and Charles are really lovely. Charles really brings some of the awkwardness of someone whose entire life has been spent in a cosseted world of palaces and flunkies, and who is really self-consciously awful at small talk. One of the funniest scenes is the Prince’s attempts to chat with the guests at the ball which had me chuckling with mirth. Aimee and Joel are a nasty pair as Ella’s step-sister and brother, although there is the impression that they are not so much bad people but are the product of their overbearing mother, for whom her children are but a stepping stone to a brighter future. Bryan Pilkington plays her well. His performance is not completely OTT pantomime Dame but is definitely a scene stealer, particularly when trying to get the crystal boot to fit.

Devised by Sally Cookson, Adam Peck and the original company, the story is sweet and well written. Director Kate Bannister knows her stuff and makes full use of both Karl Swinyard’s very practical set and her talented cast to give the audience a wonderful story of good triumphing over adversity. The costumes – by Martin Robinson – are a nice mixture of traditional and modern, and Elliot Clay’s compositions are nicely brought together by Matthew Parker’s choreography – especially the ‘hand jive’ sequence which brought back many fond memories of my bad old days at the Rock Island Diner.

As I’ve already said, Cinderella: A Fairytale is not a standard pantomime, instead, think of it as a Christmas show with a familiar story. It is fun, enjoyable and, even slightly shocking. At all times though, the show is magical and brings a whole new side to a traditional story, meaning you leave the theatre with that nice warm Christmassy feeling and ready to battle the crowds for that final present for Great Aunt Anne.

4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Ella lives in the forest with her loving and devoted father. When her father remarries, Ella is soon at the mercy of her cruel and scheming new relations. A chance encounter leads to an invitation to a ball and a hilarious and heart-warming reversal of fortunes begins, with surprising twists along the way.

Join us at the Jack this Christmas for a thrilling and imaginative retelling of the Brothers Grimm version of the story, in a dazzlingly original take on one of the best-known fairy tales of all time.

Cinderella: A Fairytale
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
Wednesday 12 December 2018 to Saturday 5 January 2019 at 7.30pm.


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