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Cinderella in-the-round at the Royal Albert Hall

Did you know that the Cinderella story first appeared as ‘Ye Xian’ in ninth-century China? Since then Cinderella has earned a reputation as the most frequently staged pantomime. It has been seen by billions worldwide as a pantomime, play, musical, film, opera, and ballet. And it was this version that took me to the Royal Albert Hall for English National Ballet’s performance of Cinderella In-The-Round.

Erina Takahashi in Cinderella in the round. Credit Laurent Liotardo.
Erina Takahashi in Cinderella in the round. Credit Laurent Liotardo.

Do I need to tell you the story? Probably not, though there are some differences with this version from the standard known and loved by many.

In this version young Cinderella (Millicent Honour) is a happy young girl with a loving father (James Streeter) and mother (Angela Wood). While Cinderella enjoys her life, in the Palace, young Prince Guillaume (Alfie Napolitano) wants to do nothing more than play with his best friend Benjamin (Joseph Philips), while his father King Albert (Fabian Reimair) wants him to be more serious and prepare himself for one day taking on the throne. The years pass, life changes and the children are all now grown. Cinderella (Erina Takahashi) has lost her mother and her father has remarried. His new wife Hortensia (Sarah Kundi) has two daughters – Edwina (Fernanda Oliveira) and Clementine (Katja Khaniukova) – of her own and she dotes on them with the three women treating Cinderella as a servant in the home. In the palace, the boys have also grown, and Prince Guillaume (Francesco Gabriele Frola) has been told to find himself a wife, much to the amusement of Benjamin (Ken Saruhashi). Whilst nobody appeals, the King and Queen (Stina Quagebeur) decide to throw a ball and invite all the eligible ladies of the kingdom to come and parade themselves as potential wives to the handsome prince. Cinderella wants to go to the ball, but her stepmother forbids it. Is she destined to stay at home or will the Fates (Fernando Carratala Coloma, Henry Dowden, Skyler Martin, and Erik Woolhouse) who have watched over her since her mother’s death be able to help her achieve her dream?

Ballet is a weird phenomenon in many ways. As with opera, lots of people would never consider going to a performance because it’s ‘not for people like them’. In reality, they couldn’t be more wrong. As a medium for telling a story, dance has to be the most effective. Everything is played out in front of you with no problems around understanding the language or bad sound quality muffling words. In fact, I would go so far as to say of all the forms of storytelling there are, dance is probably the purest and most accessible.

And, as a venue, the Royal Albert Hall is perfect. A huge dance space that can be seen by everyone and as was shown early in the year with the performance of The Car Man, utilised to produce a breathtaking show. And Cinderella certainly did that. I am no ballet aficionado – let’s be honest I barely know the difference between ‘relevé’ and ‘élancer’ – but I was thoroughly entranced by this performance. Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon uses every inch of the vast space available to make the most of Prokofiev’s wonderful score. Before turning to the dancing, let’s mention the staging. Julian Crouch’s set and costumes, backed up by Daniel Brodie’s wonderful projection are just spectacular and give all the illusion of the various locales for the story without taking up too much of the space which is needed for dancing.

And moving to the dancing, what a spectacle. Both the leads Erina Takahashi and Francesco Gabriele Frola on the night I attended, were wonderful, totally filling the vast arena with their personalities and skills as they brought Cinderella and Prince Guillaume respectively to life. Their solos were superb and together they danced with the real love and affection the characters had for each other. I’m also going to single out one other dancer at this point, Sarah Kundi as Cinderella’s stepmother, Hortensia. What a performance. Nasty, mean-spirited and, particularly in Acts II and III, hilarious. I know that acting drunk is hard work for a standard actor, but acting drunk while dancing followed by acting hungover while dancing is something you really need to see, and many congratulations to Sarah for such a wonderful performance.

As I left the RAH last night, I tweeted that I need more ballet in my life, and I stand by that today. English National Ballet have produced a wonderful show with Cinderella In-The-Round, which is accessible, enjoyable and, whoever you are, definitely for people like you.

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

English National Ballet return to the Royal Albert Hall for the first time since 2019, with 14 performances of Cinderella in-the-round, featuring over 90 dancers, a live orchestra, magnificent sets and transformational projections.

This sparkling ballet will transport you to an enchanting kingdom where forest creatures live alongside princes, a growing tree appears to dance in the wind, and Cinderella’s wit and generosity get her to the ball – with the help of a little bit of magic.

Christopher Wheeldon’s glittering choreography sees the arena floor flooded with exquisite dancers, while Prokofiev’s sublime score is performed by the English National Ballet Philharmonic.

Royal Albert Hall
Kensington Gore, London, United Kingdom, SW7 2AP

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