Photo: Photo by Tristram Kenton, Royal Opera House
Cinderella, Royal Opera House, London
By L Amatullah
Attending a new production of Cinderella, one tends to feel secure in the knowledge that you can’t really go wrong with it. It’s a timeless classic. Everyone loves it. And it’s a timeless classic that isn’t necessarily forever subject to comparisons against its cinematic counterpart – well not as much as other similar productions (one eagerly awaits the reception of the new Shrek musical). So when I attended the opening night for the latest Cinderella ballet by The Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House, I went in confidently assured that I was about to experience a thoroughly enjoyable evening treading the sweet streets of nostalgic escapism to the realms of my childhood. It couldn’t possibly be otherwise.
And true to some of my expectations, there were certainly things to commend in the production. As an unashamed veteran of children’s theatre, I am often surprised at the risqué brand of ‘humour’ that is often used in such productions. Humour can and should be innocent, especially when children form the majority of the audience, and I always find it remarkable that adult humour should be considered fit for such young consumption. This new production of Cinderella, however, managed to tread the line of propriety very well; ensuring innocence is retained without detracting in the least from humour. The two ugly step sisters, played by Jonathan Howells and Alastair Marriot (yes, you read those names correctly), were brilliantly portrayed, clad in their ill-fit and garishly decorated gowns and lumbering along atrociously in their attempts to mimic ballroom dancing. I found myself looking forward to their appearance and never disappointed by their presence.
Another aspect to tickle the imagination was the costumes. In addition to the awful attires of the ugly sisters, the magical clothing of the fairies, the seasons, and indeed Cinderella herself, left very little to be desired. The child in me felt appropriately jealous of the fairy godmother, whose beautifully glittering gown made many a young girl envious, I am sure. In fact, I found myself admiring the fairy godmother even more than Cinderella, whose sparkling white dress was admirably striking. And the four seasons in their spring green, summer pink, autumn red and winter white adorned the stage beautifully.
However, while clothing can adorn, it is the substance that must impress. And for what I’d imagined would be a fool-proof production, when the curtains closed I found myself considerably underwhelmed. The ballet failed to engage, and this element rendered it incapable of attracting the attention and appreciation such a production is worth. While the plot cherishes many a dramatic climax – from the transformations of Cinderella to the climatic conclusion – the production failed to capitalise on these moments, rendering them ineffective. Cinderella’s transformation, a scene which should have had the audience gasping, took place so swiftly and unremarkably, one was literally left thinking ‘Was that it?’ At this point the first interval arrived, when I discovered those around me shared similar sentiments.
The dancing was also disappointing for a ballet production. The several dance sequences often seemed like space-fillers rather than essentials to the plot. One could almost feel Cinderella rushing around backstage as the fairies danced to allow her the time to change her costumes. No doubt this was often the case – yet for the audience to be able to notice it reflects a significant shortcoming. The Prince, who should have been one of the main attractions of the play, was a somewhat shaky dancer – indeed at one point visibly slipping – reflecting badly upon his dance partner. Thiago Soares’ occasional unsteadiness did overshadow what was the commendable performance of Marianela Nunez as Cinderella. Nonetheless, let’s not be too harsh on him – while he may have not danced to perfection, he remained an attractive and composed character. Nunez however, for all her perfection in performance, retained an expression, best described as simpering, that detracted from her portrayal and rendered her a tad aggravating. A composed Cinderella of confidence, yet loving adoration, would have proved a more appealing character to the modern audience.
While Cinderella is indeed a fool-proof classic, I had perhaps overlooked one obvious factor when I attended with my hopes soaring. That it is indeed a classic, and that to stand out from the great crowd of productions, plays and films, this ballet required a spark. However, for all its commendable elements, it is this spark which was lacking. And so I attended and I left, none the more entertained than a usual evening out in London. Still, I shouldn’t complain; an evening out in London is much to be grateful for.
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