It is rare for the Dukes Theatre to offer up anything traditional at Christmas, so the choice of Cinderella for this year’s festive production was ever so slightly disconcerting.
But the Dukes never offends by delivering reheated versions of the classics – and this adaptation by Ian Kershaw was no exception.
Set on a farm in the middle of nowhere, in a land where highwaymen, gold coins, leopard-print clothes and bad-taste fascinators all have a place, it surprises again and again.
The story is told to two children by their grandfather as they await the arrival of their parents on Christmas Eve.
And while the ugly sisters live up to their original storybook roles as obnoxious intruders in young (Cinder)Ella’s world, the leading lady is far from the shrinking violet described by the Brothers Grimm.
This punchy character, played by Rachael Garnett, is initially submissive to placate her father, newly-married to the girls’ abrasive, leopard-print-wearing mother, Clarissa. But she shows her mettle after her father is kidnapped and she is left to fight her corner alone.
With a modest character count of 14, a breeze for the cast of six after last year’s challenging 28 roles, the production sometimes seems to lack pace, especially as the focus is mostly on just a handful of characters – Ella, Clarissa (Kate Copeland) and ugly sisters Grizelda (Josie Cerise) and Greta (Charlotte McKinney).
There are some laugh-out-loud moments – the podium dance by Grizelda being one of them – and Charlotte McKinney has honed to perfection the role of the slightly dim Greta: brilliant characterisation!
Kate Copeland’s is eminently unlikable as Clarissa – very much the evil stepmother – and together with her stage daughters brings a touch of pantomime to the production.
There are a handful of musical interludes, with Adam Barlow, who plays Danny and the Prince, providing a smile-inducing introduction on the fiddle, and a scattering of songs.
While the first half lacks energy at times, the second half makes up for this and delivers a jolly, colourful and entertaining finale… with a twist, of course.