Cinderella ****1/2

I’m going to go out on a limb on this one and guess that there have been a lot of complaints about Citizens Cinderella.  Too dark.  Too serious.  Too scary.  Not Christmas-y enough.  Needs more humour.  And probably it’s biggest crime: it just isn’t a panto.

As far as I’m concerned, these are all strengths.  After all, this is the best rendition of the Cinderella story I have seen in some time.  Alan McHugh has taken many aspects from different versions and has compiled them into one coherent and interesting play.  All of the major components are here: wicked stepmother and horrid stepsisters, a royal ball, a magical spirit and a lost shoe.

What McHugh’s script and Jeremy Raison’s direction does best, however, is humanise everything.  Helen McAlpine’s Cinderella isn’t just an annoying goody-goody but is faced with serious dilemmas and has to remind herself to be kind and calm.  Andrew Scott-Ramsay isn’t a two-dimensional dream whose function is a one-way ticket out of misery; he has some grown-up choices to make and comes across as a fair man.  Even Sarah Haworth’s Narcissus and Mairi Phillips’ Vanity come across as sympathetic, especially when their mother (brilliantly played by Cara Kelly) is as dismissive as she is towards her own daughters.

All of this adds up to a fantastic production that has both substance and a soul.  It is well acted by its ensemble and has a great design concept by Jason Southgate.  It’s mostly serious but still has lots of fun and playful moments (mostly involving the stepsisters).

If I have one objection, it is this: Citizens needs to come fully clean about the play’s temperament.  This play does not feel like a panto and only has one moment where the audience are asked to participate.  Many audience members seemed confused at the performance I saw, not quite knowing if they should boo and hiss or not.  And yet, the main instigator of audience talkback was an usher, who seemed to think it was her job to be a cheerleader and get the audience to be vocal.

If it is Raison and the company’s intention to make the play more panto-friendly, then they need to perhaps look at ways of lightening key moments and finding ways of giving the audience permission to be more involved.  If, however, this is meant to be a non-panto production, then house management needs to consider reigning in the staff.

With Disney and many kid-friendly versions to answer for, it’s easy to forget how dark many fairy tales really are; and one glance at an older version will show that Cinderella is one of the darkest.  This Cinderella isn’t out to scare or titillate, but it is a mature piece of theatre.  Those looking for brainless eye-candy will probably be disappointed.  However, to those looking for family fare with real substance, look no further.

Playing at the Citizens until January2, 2010.


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