If you enjoy a good festive fairytale but you’re not a fan of panto, Cinderella: A Fairytale, this year’s Christmas production at the Brockley Jack, offers an excellent alternative. Fairy godmothers and glass slippers are nowhere to be seen in this darkly humorous take on the well-known story – but despite a few grisly moments, there’s still a happy ending and more than enough fun and adventure to send the audience home full of glad tidings and cheer.
Devised by Sally Cookson, Adam Peck and the original company back in 2011, this Cinderella borrows from the Brothers Grimm version, Aschenputtel, but with a few details tweaked. For starters independent, no-nonsense Ella (Molly Byrne) needs no rescuing; she’s more than able to take care of herself, first encountering the birdwatching prince (Charlie Bateman) in the woods after tricking her stepsiblings into doing her cleaning for her. Instead of stepsisters, this story has a stepsister (Aimee Louise Bevan) and a stepbrother (Joel Black), who may not be ugly but are definitely mean, though still portrayed in a more forgiving light than in most adaptations. The undisputed villain here is Ella’s awful stepmother (Bryan Pilkington), who’s more than prepared to mistreat her own children as well as Ella in order to get what she wants.
In a nod to the panto spirit, the show includes live musical numbers composed by Elliot Clay, and a little bit of harmless audience participation, led by Charlie Bateman as a prince whose social awkwardness actually makes him all the more charming. You won’t be called on to shout “oh no it isn’t” or “he’s behind you”, but it is tempting on more than one occasion to boo Bryan Pilkington’s wicked stepmother. The part of the baddie is very much played for laughs – and very successfully so – but that in no way detracts from the character’s viciousness, particularly in contrast to Pilkington’s other role as Ella’s kindly, mild-mannered father.
The Brockley Jack’s final show of the year is always a festive treat, and the latest offering from Kate Bannister and the team is no exception. While other productions of Cinderella may attempt a lavish Disney-style affair, this one uses the power of imagination to bring the story and its settings to life. The opening sequence charts Ella’s childhood years through some delightfully creative puppetry from Will Pinchin, and the all-important birds, who appear throughout the story as Ella’s friends and helpers, are portrayed using pages from books. Meanwhile Karl Swinyard’s deceptively simple set has a few magical surprises up its sleeve, and sound designer Phil Matejtschuk has rather too much fun with grisly sound effects; we may not see what happens when the meat cleaver comes out, but that doesn’t stop the audience flinching as one each time it finds its target.
Meat cleavers (and vengeful birds) aside, Cinderella: A Fairytale is feel-good family fun, which discards the predictable cheesiness, chaos and risqué humour traditionally associated with festive shows, while retaining all the humour and entertainment value for audiences of any age. A charming, polished and hugely enjoyable Christmas production, this show is well worth venturing out in the cold to see. Oh yes it is…