Cinders goes to the ball with a RAF pilot: Ian Soutar hears from the creator of a classical ballet transformed into a wartime romance in the London Blitz...

Christopher Marney as The Angel and Kerry Biggin as Cinderella in Matthew Bourne's Cinderella. 'Photo Credit Simon Annand
Christopher Marney as The Angel and Kerry Biggin as Cinderella in Matthew Bourne's Cinderella. 'Photo Credit Simon Annand

WIDELY hailed as the UK’s most popular and successful choreographer/director, Matthew Bourne is inviting people to the ball next week when his version of Cinderella comes to the Lyceum Theatre.

As you would expect from his company, New Adventures, it will be less of a fairytale, more of a cinematic experience, with a setting in the Second World War. Bourne’s interpretation of Prokofiev’s haunting score is centred on a wartime romance when a chance meeting results in a magical night for Cinderella and her dashing young RAF pilot, together just long enough to fall in love before being parted by the horrors of the Blitz.

Sam Archer as The Pilot and Kerry Biggin as Cinderella in Matthew Bourne's Cinderella. Photo Credit Simon Annand.'Cinders Review.

Sam Archer as The Pilot and Kerry Biggin as Cinderella in Matthew Bourne's Cinderella. Photo Credit Simon Annand.'Cinders Review.

First seen in the West End in 1997, it was revived and revised to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the London Blitz.

“Lez Brotherson has re-designed it and there’s definitely a fresh look with an element of film, some Pathe newsreels, and music in Surround Sound and other effects which will make the audience feel they’re really in it,” says Bourne.

The new elements are a result of technological advances since 1997, and just how great they have been was brought home to them when they could only find some blurry video footage of the original production.

Bourne feels personal connection to the story. “It feels very much part of my family history,” he says. “My parents were Londoners and were in the war as kids, they weren’t evacuated, and my grandparents were involved in the war effort.

The Company of Matthew Bourne's Cinderella. Photo Credit Simon Annand.'Cinders review.

The Company of Matthew Bourne's Cinderella. Photo Credit Simon Annand.'Cinders review.

“I was very aware of London families living through the Blitz and a lot of stories came my way from my dad. It was a nice thing do, to find out more about something that was part of their past.”

Another trigger was the music of Prokofiev which was actually written during the Second World War. “It’s a fantastic period ballet but I wondered if I could hear it danced in scenes that were a bit more contemporary,” says the choreographer.

“Putting the idea of Cinderella in a wartime setting gelled. Then time was scarce and people fell in love quicky and were separated just as quickly.

“Then I thought of this image of the shoe in the rubble for the lost slipper and it seemed to work with the period.”

Another connection was the sense of escapism. “Going to the ball was like going to the cinema, that’s what they did back then to escape, that and go to a dance. I read about an incident at the Cafe de Paris which took a direct hit when people were dancing and that seemed like an amazing tragic and romantic moment - people dancing while the bombs dropped.”

Bourne and New Adventures’ last appearance in Sheffield was with a raunchy adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray set in the contemporary world of fashion and decadence. Cinderella would suggest an altogether easier sell.

“It depends who people are. When I announced Dorian Gray a lot of people were excited but concerned that it would do justice to the book and at the same time the subject matter was a bit more difficult to some people,” he points out.

“It’s true that with something like Cinderella - or Swan Lake or Nutcracker - you are on a winner because everyone knows it.”

But will some people be expecting a more traditional treatment? “That used to happen more in our early days and hopefully you win them over in the end. All the elements are there - the wicked stepmother and the lost shoe. It’s very Cinderella but it’s different.”

Next year is the 10th anniversary of New Adventures and the 25th year of the original company, Adventures in Motion Pictures, and we will be celebrating with a new piece using the music of Bernard Herrmann and a revival of Play Without Words in the summer and then Nutcracker at the end of the year. So it’s a big year for us.” They have just finished making a 3D film of his greatest hit, Swan Lake, and he believes that the format could revolutionise capturing dance on screen. “I think it’s the beginning of something very exciting.”

Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella is at Lyceum Theatre from Tuesday to Saturday.