Derby Theatre, Monday 7th December, 2015
There are over 2,000 versions of this story, some of them pre-date the Bible. Something about it strikes chords within our psyche. Perhaps it’s because it’s a story of survival. Perhaps it’s the promise of reward in the ‘happy ever after’. Either way, we never seem to tire of it and at this time of year, it’s ripe for another retelling.
Playwright Mike Kenny takes the fresh approach of having his version told and enacted by a pack of rats in the kitchen in which Cinderella suffers so much of her grief at the loss of her parents and bullying at the hands of her stepsisters. The rats narrate, sing, and play instruments and are an instantly likeable lot in their ragged costumes. Their rodent nature comes from movements rather than appearance – they could be any of society’s outcasts. The script is both funny and poetic, meeting our expectations of the well-known plot while giving a new slant, a rat’s-eye view.
The original songs by Ivan Stott are irresistibly catchy, adding to the humour: there’s a nod to Disney’s Ev’rybody Wants To Be A Cat with Nobody Wants To Be A Rat but it’s not all jolly japery. There is a kind of sweet melancholy to some of the songs. Cinderella (Esme Sears) has a plaintive number that almost breaks your heart. Beautifully sung. Sears is the only black cast member, the skivvy, the victim of oppression – this adds another resonance to the piece that is perhaps unintended. Your heart goes out to her and we see the long-term effects of bullying: the rock-bottom self-esteem and lack of self-worth. It’s no wonder this Cinders feels an affinity with vermin.
Stephanie Rutherford and Chris Lindon are the ugly stepsisters, This Un and That Un – it’s their appalling conduct that makes them undesirable – and, of course, a lot of fun. Jake Waring is appealing as a gauche, socially awkward Prince.
Tim Heywood’s costumes are bright and colourful, with a hint of the dressing-up box to them, while Nettie Scriven’s set, with its illuminated washing lines, has a picture book quality. Sarah Brigham’s direction gets the tone spot on throughout. The dynamics and energy levels are handled masterfully – we are reminded it’s only a story but we are drawn right in and made to care. This is a Cinderella that plays on our imaginations through storytelling rather than spectacle, using the transformative power of narrative theatre instead of special effects to work its magic. It’s a lovely, funny, charming, touching and satisfying production that transfixes and delights children and adults alike.