I was a little worried with attending two productions of Cinderella in less than 14 hours of each other. How different can the productions be against one of the most famous fairy-tales of all time?
You can imagine my surprise when I sat down in the Unicorn Theatre to witness a completely different telling of Cinderella to the pantomime I had experienced the night before. More to the point, what a pleasant surprise, a whole new adaptation! In this completely reworking of the classic tale, Phil Porter has re-imagined the world of Cinderella, changing places, characters and even the story line. This has to be one of the strongest parts of the performance, the way in which Porter captures the essence of the story, and reworking it into a modern portrayal.
Of course there is still the classic elements of the story in place, yet there are twists and turns to really jog you off course when watching the performance. Cinderella refuses the Princes love? The Fairy Godmother doesn’t exist? There is no pumpkin carriage? What the devil is going on?! The answer: a brilliant adaptation to keep you guessing the next twist in the story.
Cinderella opens with a powerful ensemble song setting the scene for the story. We’re aboard The Flying Cassandra, a slightly rusting boat that is the home of Cinderella and her father… of course not forgetting the old retired magicians. Cinderella helps to keep the boat afloat by making the porridge each morning for the retired folks, and keeping everything just right. So when her father announces he is to bring his new love abroad the boat along with her two daughters, things start to not quite go to plan.
Cinderella is played by Amaka Okafor, who gives a fantastic portrayal of this well known character. There is tenderness in her playing, and a sparkle in her eye during every scene that makes her arrival to the stage a pleasant experience every time. Okafor’s singing equally outdoes the rest of the cast, finding a softness and emotional connection with the lyrics and music composed by Martin Ward.
There is comedy to be found in Cinderella with the three retired magicians, Mr Marakovic, Mrs Mifflock and Mrs Peafendor, the latter constantly referring to herself in third person. These three rather old, and zimmer-framed attached characters are the Fairy Godmothers of the story, producing small magic tricks to keep Cinderella amused and also busy. Yet their aid comes to hand later in the piece when they magic up a beautiful dress from an empty suitcase and shoes to match from a metal tray. Whilst these magic tricks are basic and have no need for the usual pyrotechnics often found in theatre these days – they proved successful in wow-ing the large group of children watching.
As Cinderella only features a cast of 8, there is a large amount of doubling up of characters, but you really would not notice at all. Julie Hewlett as Mrs Peafendorf, a dotty third speaking character quickly changes into an all pink tracksuit and hooped earings to become a rather chavy step-mother. The difference between the characters is superb, Hewlett shines as the Mrs Sheila Yarg, the nasty step-mother out to get the money. Equally Samantha Adams’ swift change from batty Mrs Mifflock complete with zimmer-frame to a much grander The Queen is brilliantly exercised.
I’m not always a fan of mutli-roling when it comes to cast members, but Tony Graham’s direction of the cast means that often you wouldn’t even recognise the cast playing completely opposite characters. With contrasting voices and physicalities, and not forgetting different wigs doesn’t make for a farce, but rather a slick transition between characters.
Cinderella is of course famous for the Ugly-Sisters, and I have to say that despite my liking of Porters adaptation of the story and text, I wish that the characters of Miss Tixylix Yarg and Miss Monopoly Yarg (The Ugly-Sisters) were a bit more of the classic horrible, nasty and mean characters that we are use to. The two Miss’ Yarg’s are just a little bit tame for my liking, but luckily the costumes make up for this. With a hideous miss match of bright pinks and reds, the sight of John Cockerill and Ery Nzaramba is quite horrific to the eye!
Amazingly too, I actually felt rather sorry for Miss Tixylix Yarg, as Porter had written in a telling of how she is always picked on by the other Yarg’s, and goes to Cinderella to warn her of the tricks that are to be played upon her. It’s good to see Porter adapting the text to include morals and rather heart warming moments from Cockerill as Tixylix.
There is room for improvement in this production of Cinderella, but the potential that is already laid out is brilliant. There are surprises to be had along the way, including Gavin the seagull who whisks Cinderella away to fly her to the ball, and even later appears to attack Mrs Yarg by some rather realistic flying poo.
It’s a slight shame that some of the singing lacked power during the performances making some of the solo songs quite difficult to understand and hear. However, with the twists and turns of the storyline it makes an enjoyable morning at the theatre. With the nature of the adaptation, despite being aimed primarily at young children, Cinderella really is for all ages.
Cinderella at the Unicorn Theatre is not your usual fairy-tale story. The adaptation is bursting with imagination, and put together on the revolving stage by Russell Craig’s boat and palace design, it will certainly bring that much needed sparkle for children and adults alike this Christmas.
Running at the Unicorn Theatre until 24 January 2010, booking via the website