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A New Adventures Production

Matthew Bourne’s


Kerry Biggin as Cinderella in Matthew Bourne's Cinderella

Photo by Simon Annand


Music by Prokofiev

Director and Choreographer Matthew Bourne

Associate Director Etta Murfitt

Sound Design – Paul Groothuis

Lighting Design – Neil Austin

Set and Costume Design – Lez Brotherston

Sadler’s Wells

30 November – 23 January 2010





A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


In Matthew Bourne’s imaginative hands, this fairytale ballet about the transformative power of love takes on new historical impetus, as it is set in London 1940 at the height of the Blitz.

In hindsight, when you think about the unusual setting for the timeless tale of Cinderella, drawing on destiny, the cyclical wheel of fortune and the preciousness of time, and its new dramatic setting, the two seem an uncanny match.  But Bourne’s Eureka moment in relation to this pairing occurred when he realized that Prokofiev had written the score for this ballet from 1940 to 1944, during WWII.

As in the fairytale, Bourne’s Cinderella is the downtrodden half sister of two selfish step-sisters and one nightmare of a stepmother, even more so here, as his raven haired matriarch is aptly modeled on Hollywood drama queen Joan Crawford. We see drab Cinderella toiling at her housework in a monochrome mansion, wearing monochrome clothes as a shining white envelope with an invitation inside for every member of the household but her comes through the letterbox.  However, instead of being to a ball the invite is to a party at the ill-fated Café du Paris. Ill-fated because Bourne draws the Café from history too, as it suffered a direct hit from an enemy bomb on the night of March 8, 1941 when it was packed with dancers, killing many instantly, among them, the band and the Café’s well known bartender, ‘Snakehips’ Johnson.

In one of his customary twists, Bourne chooses a wounded airman for his ‘Prince’, his way of honouring the contribution of such men in this, the 70th Anniversary year of the Battle of Britain as well as one of the worst of many nights of the Blitz - Dec. 29, 1940, when the City of London was in flames, with St. Paul’s Cathedral standing sentinel in the background. But their unlikely romance is born of Bourne’s original vision, as the airman Harry and Cinderella are both wounded in their own fashions and in great need of love, as evidenced by the many scenes of one or the other of them desperately wandering the streets of war torn London. Bourne has also chosen to plant a stray G-I among his group of British servicemen, even thought the Americans didn’t enter the war until 1942, without doubt, an acknowledgement of the many soldiers from the States who lost their lives in WWII.



Sam Archer as The Pilot and Kerry Biggin as Cinderella in Matthew Bourne's Cinderella

Photo Credit Simon Annand




This is a three act ballet with intervals between each act. In act 1 it is established straight away that Cinderella has set her cap on the wounded airman who wanders into her life via the living room of the family mansion she keeps house in. When she runs off, we are with her, in a vivid land of smoking ruins that is barely recognizable as the London we know today. Act II opens most dramatically at all with a scene of carnage in the aftermath of the Café du Paris bombing. So we must backtrack to find out what occurred before. It is lovely and sad setting, but it is the one where Cinderella and the airman fall in love and this act celebrates their consummation of that love with a passionate pas de deux. Act III is all about finding what you may or may not have known but surely missed, and appreciating it at last. Kind of like arriving back where you started a la The Wizard of Oz, with realizations enhanced, despite ensuing turmoil.

Prokofiev’s score is sweeping and epic in scope, and thus, well suited to the surround sound it is played through for this wonderfully animated, cinematic ballet, with its many Hollywood movie references via clothing, hairstyles and makeup, not to mention mannerisms of the time such as casual cigarette lighting and off hand smoking. Bourne’s customarily expressive choreography continues to fascinate his audiences, as every nuance of each and every character is utilized within its context, from awkwardness through passion, fear, shyness, anger, jealousy and that brightest of beacons – hope, in order to enable us better know, and care about his characters. As you might expect, if you’re already a fan of Bourne’s work, the pas de deux in this ballet are not only many, but varied, with aspects of longing, lust, laughter and fatigue of the long suffering victims of war incorporated into it, and the company’s superb leading dancers alternately move the crowd and impress with their expertise of form and breadth of emotion.

Cinderella is beautifully danced by Kerry Biggin with all the vigour and emotion of a young woman long devoid of love. The object of her ardent affection, airman Harry, a deeply flawed man, (no princely bar to measure up to here), like his partner Biggin, Sam Archer performs his part with an energetic grace and restlessness apt for one in his care worn position. Bourne being un-atypical, we have a snowy haired male angel in a shining white suit, rather than a fairy godmother and the seemingly, double joined Christopher Marney is beguiling in his role. As a wheel-chair bound WWI vet obviously suffering from shell shock, Robert Westmoreland as Cinderella’s powerless father, inspires compassion and his ‘wife’ aka evil Step Mother Sybil as performed by Michela Meazza is remarkably light on her toes and incredibly sinister – shades of Meazza’s riveting performance in Bourne’s Swan Lake at Sadler’s last year. ]

Lez Brotherston’s war torn, self-destroying sets and largely monochrome landscape and costumes help bring home the ferocity with which London was bombarded and the strong hearts of the brave people who stayed and kept going, seemingly, no matter what. Acts I and III ingeniously open with Pathe news showing devastation caused by air-raids and the initial fascination of Londoners with the idea of the Blitz, prior to it happening, with a warning not to ‘look up at the sky.’ By Act III it is obvious that although London appears to be on its knees, its people doggedly keep things going and these so called ‘ordinary’ people carrying on under extraordinary circumstances are among the many WWII era individuals whom Bourne fondly and respectfully pays homage to here.  

It makes no difference whether you are a fan of Matthew Bourne’s work or not, or even whether you are sympathetic to the soldiers who perished on our behalf to ensure freedom from tyranny during WWII. From the beginning of this ballet, when Cinderella runs away from her familial enslavement to the celebratory dancing below VE day flags to ‘Pennsylvania 6-5000’ at the conclusion, this truly is a journey with something for everyone: humour, bravery, romance, sorrow, drama and most of all, great heart in a time when being sentimental went a long way towards keeping one sane and all the old adages that are seen as corny today like ‘united we stand,’ ‘every cloud has a silver lining,’ and ‘keep your sunny side up,’ helped get people through some very dark days and nights, so dark, we can’t even begin to imagine them. The reason we can’t imagine them today is because those who suffered them first hand made things better for subsequent generations. I’m not into war, but I am into giving credit where credit is due and this is what Bourne has done most beautifully, and this is the proverbial silver lining which shines through the monochrome world he has created so vividly for us with his Cinderella.

When I first saw Bourne’s Cinderella, Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Ugly Duckling’ came to mind, as she seemed like such a fledgling compared to the swan she has traditionally, become. But as in Hollywood films of yore, it seems all women have an inherent glamour queen within, beauty being in the eye of one’s true love. By the end of this wonderfully evocative ballet, it was apparent that the rapt audience had fallen in love with Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella too, and so, it seems certain, will you.



Christopher Marney as The Angel and Kerry Biggin as Cinderella in Matthew Bourne's Cinderella

Photo by Simon Annand





Sadler’s Wells
Roseberry Avenue
London EC1R
Performance times
Tue - Sun at 7.30pm
(excluding Fri 24, Sat 25, Fri 31 Dec & Sun 23 Jan)
Sat & Sun Mats at 2.30pm
(excluding Sat 25 Dec & Sat 1 Jan)
Wed 22, Fri 24, Tue 28, Thu 30, Fri 31 Dec & Wed 19 Jan at 2.30pm
Running time
2 hrs 38 mins (including two intervals)
£10 - £50

Family Ticket: £150
4 tickets. Must include at least 1 child

Group Discounts
Groups 8+ 20% off stalls seats for most performances. more »
Not available online or in conjunction with any other offer. To book, call the Ticket Office on 0844 412 4300.

Under 5s admitted. Please note the production contains one loud bomb explosion sound effect.

Recorded music






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