Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella

She still has a couple of stepsisters and a none too kindly stepmother, but this Cinderella also has a trio of stepbrothers (one has a foot fetish, another is gay, the third isn’t yet old enough to know what’ll turn him on when he grows up) plus a silver-suited Angel with a motorbike instead of the conventional Fairy Godmother.

For his New Adventures dance company, Matthew Bourne has almost completely reinvented this staple of ballet and panto, moving the setting to London in the Blitz and turning the usual Prince into an injured RAF pilot. Frumpy, dumpy Cinderella, myopic and mouse-like in her grey woollen outfit, is still the household underdog, but her father is a war veteran confined to a wheelchair whilst his second wife vamps it up in Joan Crawford style.

This is, in fact, a significant reworking of Bourne’s own 1997 ballet which followed his ground-breaking all male Swan Lake. The wail of sirens punctuates the surround sound swirl of Prokofiev’s music (which, fittingly, was composed during the war) as Cinderella imagines she’s been whisked off to the Café de Paris on the night it was bombed. Lez Brotherston’s evocative designs create a ghostly echo of war-torn London – from glamorous ballroom with the life ripped out if it to the Thames embankment in the early hours.

With its Brief Encounter style station farewells (cinematic references abound), urgent anonymous couplings with rent boys and prostitutes in the shelter of the Underground and even a session of electroconvulsive therapy, this isn’t a show for young children.

But, like all the best fairytales, there’s a happy ending – tinged with wartime sadness, perhaps, but even in this drastic reinterpretation, Cinderella is, if only briefly, the sparkling belle of the ball.


Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue, EC1R 4TN
0844 412 4300
Until 23rd January
£10 – £50

– Louise Kingsley