Gillian Lynne Theatre
Reviewed – 25th August 2021
“It was a long time coming but it’s a ball”
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cinderella” has been under close scrutiny for some time now. This is in part due to Webber’s vocal stance against the government’s alleged failure to support the Arts during the pandemic. “The government’s actions are forcing theatre and music companies off a cliff as the summer wears on…” he is quoted as saying while rejecting the government’s invitation for “Cinderella” to be singled out as a last-minute part of the Events Research Program. Finally due to open on July 19th, the so-called ‘Freedom Day’, it ran a series of previews before the theatre went dark again for another month. So, long before Cinderella managed to get to the ball, the spotlight was on her every glass-slippered step. It has been a perilous journey, weighed down further by the show unwittingly becoming a litmus test for the recovery of the West End.
Eventually, though, the fairy tale dream comes true. And, in short, it is a true dream. Emerald Fennell’s book turns our concept of the Cinderella myth on its head. For a start Prince Charming has gone awol, presumed dead, and left in his place is the younger brother; Prince Sebastian – as much of a misfit as Cinderella herself. We are in Belleville, the most fairy-tale town that never existed. Carrie Hope Fletcher’s Cinderella is a ragged, rebel Goth in black lipstick. Only when in her company can Sebastian shake off his Royal mantle and truly be himself. To his dismay (and Cinderella’s unspoken concern) his mother has decided to arrange a Royal Wedding for him, purely to boost the town’s reputation. But his heart is set on Cinderella. It is not so much a will-they-won’t-they story, as we kind of know they will in the end. But that doesn’t matter – the story delivers more delightful twists on the way before the final corkscrew that pops the cork, and we can all bathe in the bubbles of joy that wash over us.
It’s a crazy makeover for the familiar story, adorned with David Zippel’s sparkling lyrics and, of course, a score that is well and truly back on form. Filled with a range of emotions and styles it swoons with strings and dips into ballads, taking many other genres under its wing. Leitmotifs and reprises float like feathers which, though intricate, are easily within our grasp and before we know it, we have made them our own. The eyes have as much of a feast as the ears. Gabriela Tylesova’s design, Bruno Poet’s lighting, with JoAnn M. Hunter’s choreography and director Laurence Conner’s staging thrust the show into the sovereign state of spectacle. And although the title suggests an out of season pantomime, this is far from it. The stunning leading cast, whilst enjoying the caricatures written for them, shape them into fully formed, loveable characters. The baddies and goodies alike.
The ugly sisters are beautiful. But marvellously dippy. Georgina Castle and Laura Baldwin play the comedy of the sibling rivalry to perfection. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt’s star turn as the stepmother accentuates the 1980s slang meaning of ‘wicked’. Insanely wonderful and cool she needs no spotlight to let her presence shine across the stage. Rebecca Trehearn’s Queen ransacks the ‘Blackadder’ archives but with so much more nuance and light and shade. Hamilton-Barritt and Trehearn make a dynamic duo, particularly during their show-stopping highlight number, ‘I Know You’ that reveals their seedy pasts in Paris.
The central pair, of course, is Cinderella and Prince Sebastian. Hope Fletcher’s gorgeous, soaring vocals reach the heightened emotions, yet she can slip into character in a beat. The star player, her generosity never pulls focus from her co actors. Sebastian was played sublimely, for this particular performance, by understudy Michael Hamway. His solo show stealing, heart stopping ‘Only You, Lonely You’ drew possibly the longest ovation of the evening. Watch out for the name!
Andrew Lloyd Webber has had his detractors and has often had to weather the storms of his risk taking. Rewriting such a beloved tale such as “Cinderella” is another risk. But boy – it has paid off! It was a long time coming but it’s a ball. Everyone is invited – and everyone should go to it. I’d say be quick about it, but there’s a feeling that this show will be around for quite some time.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Tristram Kenton
Gillian Lynne Theatre until 13th February 2022
Five star reviews from Jonathan this year: