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Stiles & Drewe’s Soho Cinders at the Bridewell Theatre

Soho Cinders - Photo Credit David Ovenden
Soho Cinders – Photo Credit David Ovenden

They are sisters. They are ugly,” so The Narrator (Michael Jibson) tells the audience, in direct reference to Clodagh (Maria Waters) and Dana (Michelle Bock), who would have stolen the show if only they had been just a tad more brazen. It’s a difficult line to straddle on stage between being bold and being hammy, but with a story loosely based on Cinderella (hence the ‘ugly sisters’ reference even in a contemporary retelling and setting, where calling anything or anyone ‘ugly’ would be considered somewhat inappropriate), and costumes (Angus Jacobs and Bex Crighton) as flashy as they are, at least for this pair, they might as well have gone all out.

They are, I hasten to add, thoroughly entertaining as they are. One likens the other to a bowling ball. “Picked up, fingered and thrown down the alley”, comes the clarification: the production doesn’t come with an age restriction, but do consider yourselves duly warned. That said, Soho Cinders has less innuendo than those pantomimes at the London Palladium. But the ‘clean’ storyline is about James Prince (Jacob Botha) and his bid to be the next Mayor of London, so probably the only sort of child that would have retained interest throughout is my own younger self, which took more of an interest in the machinations of the Thatcher Government more than comic books and chart music.

Character development varies – more is discovered about Velcro (Kat Knight), who works at a launderette in Old Compton Street and Marilyn Platt (a very likeable Caroline Hart), the fiancée of the mayoral candidate, in one scene than the audience ever learns about, say, Lord Bellingham (David Pearson), a business tycoon. I didn’t know a launderette could sustain a presence in Old Compton Street, given the business rates in that area (a subject explored by the show, as it happens) – but in one’s suspension of disbelief also comes some wry observations from your reviewer that the ways in which political figures and their backers conduct themselves throughout the course of the evening is not so much amusing but reflective of reality. This is particularly true of William George (Paul Matania), Prince’s campaign manager and advisor. (I know someone who works in politics who has compared certain people to “that guy in Soho Cinders”.)

Enter Robbie (Alex Stephenson), a young man with boy-next-door charm, who is paying down his debts (presumably accumulated from tuition fees and related studying costs, though this wasn’t made clear from the show) in an unusual manner. (Well, perhaps it’s not that unusual for Soho.) The musical isn’t all about seduction, however – consider ‘Wishing For The Normal’, in which Velcro and Robbie consider what it would be like to simply settle down, have a mortgage and the occasional restaurant dinner.

The choreography – which, from what I can deduce in the show’s programme is something of a team effort in this production between director Angus Jacobs and ‘associate choreographers’ Gayle Bryans, Eloise Menezes and Vaughan Watts – comes into its own in the larger ensemble numbers, flowing and vibrant with a suitably bustling portrayal of inner London life. Perhaps at least as far back as John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), shows that highlight political ineptitude seem highly relevant to any given year, and 2019 is no different, which seems quite a damning indictment in a supposedly more enlightened world. So, the humorous content in the show is much appreciated, and well-performed by a cast of twenty-one. Ryan Macaulay leads a band of five – the synthesisers are evident but it’s all live nonetheless.

Video projections are used sparingly but effectively, at one point to show direct messages between characters, and at others to enhance a sense of time of day (or indeed night) and location. A hearty and sincere production, it’s a more complex story than the traditional fairy-tale from which it is adapted, but it’s a lively and engaging one at that.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Robbie has a few problems. His mother has just died, without making a will, and the Old Compton Street laundrette she owned, “Sit & Spin”, is under threat from his vulgar stepsisters as they attempt to hike up the rent. If that wasn’t enough, he loves one man while being paid to hang out with another!

James Prince also has problems. He’s running for mayor, but his campaign manager’s a lying schemer and his heart isn’t entirely with his devoted fiancée Marilyn.

When your only inheritance is an urn of ashes on the mantelpiece or if your secret romance becomes tabloid front page news, can love really conquer all?

From the laundrette which hears more confidences than it washes G-strings, to a dramatic political fundraiser where a mobile phone is lost as midnight strikes, Soho Cinders is a witty, heartwarming musical twist on the classic fairytale.

ROBBIE | Alex Stephenson
VELCRO | Kat Knight
CLODAGH | Maria Waters
DANA | Michelle Bock
JAMES PRINCE | Jacob Botha
MARILYN PLATT | Caroline Hart
SASHA LARKIN | Deborah Lean

ENSEMBLE: Sarah Berryman, Ed Curry, Tim Garrad, Morgane Lafrance, Alexander McKinven, George Mignano, Tess Robinson, Dan Saunders, Mark Siddall,, Caroline Scott, Vaughan Watts.

DIRECTOR | Angus Jacobs
ASSOCIATE CHOREOGRAPHERS | Gayle Bryans, Eloise Menezes and Vaughan Watts
SET DESIGN | Andrew Laidlaw
SOUND DESIGN | Adam Coppard
COSTUME DESIGN | Angus Jacobs and Becs Crighton
MARKETING | Pippa Kyle
STAGE MANAGER | Lizzie Levett
Stiles & Drewe’s SOHO CINDERS

Music by George Stiles | Lyrics by Anthony Drewe
Book by Anthony Drewe and Elliot Davies

Bridewell Theatre
Bride Lane Fleet Street
London, EC4Y 8EQ
10th to 13th July 2019


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