It is not an uncommon opinion that Matthew Bourne has more than a streak of genius in him. In his version of Cinderella, now in its second world tour since the 2010 revival, that streak is prevalent as a sweeping, desperate, war torn romance rises from the cinders of the fairytale.
Everyone knows the story of Cinderella. What is really breath-taking is to see the classic sit so well in the blitz of 1941. Of course, this is partly down to Prokofiev's stunning music, which he wrote between 1940 and 1944, spanning most of the second world war. There is an unmistakably sinister timbre to the score that was inevitably born from the horrors of its time of genesis. Along with the playful scampering and occasional dissonance of scenes at the family house and the sweeping romance of the ball scene, it is the dark and very dramatic melodies that set the ballet in motion and underpin the action; melodies that loom over the dancers and encourage a kind of reckless abandon that is perfect both for the love story of Cinderella and for its inspired setting in war torn London of the 1940s.
The historical setting not only lands it firmly within the tangible imagination of a 21st century audience but it establishes extremely high stakes; at a time when people danced as if each day may be their last it becomes desperately important for the young lovers to find each other again after the horrifying destruction of the ballroom, a reverent bow to the bombing of the Café de Paris in '41 that shook London to its core. The scale of the destruction is shown in a shocking bombardment of the set at the end of Act two that brings a celestial night crashing down into terrifying ruin.
The setting and the ballet lend themselves to each other in Bourne's creation of magical realism. Gone is the charming prince of fairytale, replaced with RAF Pilot Harry; both a romantic notion and a damaged reality, much like Cinderella herself. Ashley Shaw is a delicate but strong lead, with enough romance to dance with a mannequin, enough bravery to cross London alone at night and enough autonomy to turn heads at the ball and go with Harry to his lodgings. Andrew Monaghan is superb as Harry, both dashing lover and vulnerable soldier, unknowingly dependant on Cinderella. There is a kind of subversion at work here; both the lovers are in distress, and in finding each other they achieve liberation.
Liam Mower gives a sublime performance as the Angel, a mixture of fate and godfather material, a shining light to guide and preserve the lovers as he twirls and leaps with ethereal grace around the most important moments of their story. The cast could not be better, and the whole company is utterly exquisite.
With Lez Brotherston's masterful design and Prokofiev's evocative music, Bourne has created a beguiling and modern story that transcends its title. Of all ballets, this is one that truly has one foot in each world.
Until Saturday 9th 7.30pm ,matinees Thursday and Saturday 2.30pm