REVIEW: Cinderella: the AWESOME truth (Polka Theatre)

According to our completely unscientific analysis, Cinderella is the most popular title for a Christmas show. Everyone knows the story; impoverished servant girl goes for a ride in an oversized pumpkin, has an enchanted evening, loses a shoe, marries a prince and lives happily ever after. But, that’s just a fairytale. If you want to know how it really happened, head to Polka Theatre this Christmas, where the Ugly Sisters are setting the record straight in Cinderella the AWESOME Truth.

Written and directed by Sarah Punshon, and co-created by Toni-Dee Paul, this is neither a pantomime nor a Disneyfied Cinderella. There’s no dame in drag, no wicked stepmother trope and no Fairy Godmother stepping in to save the day. Quite the contrary in fact, with the baddie being a body-shaming Fairy Godmother app. There are stepsisters in this story but they’re the protagonists, Cindy and Ella, and they’re very different people. Cindy(Jade Lauren) is desperate to be rich and famous while Ella (Tiajna Amayo) is more interested in boxing and befriending squirrels. After an argument, the stepsisters find themselves separated in the royal woods the day before Prince Francis’ big birthday bash. Things then start to get a little confusing, with Geeky Francis (James Keningale) unwilling to reveal his true identity to Ella, while Cindy ends up under the impression that she is in the presence of royalty after befriending Francis’ friend, Dandini (LJ Parkinson). Desperate to bag herself a boyfriend at the ball, Cindy succumbs to the lure of the online Fairy Godmother app, leaving it up to Ella and Sass the Squirrel to save her from the body-shaming trolls, with a little help from the audience.

Tiajna Amayo and Jade Lauren in Cinderella the AWESOME truth. Credit: Tasha Best.

It’s a fun, silly and empowering show, which has all the elements you would expect of a festive, family production. There’s plenty of audience participation but there’s no shouting “it’s behind you” or booing at the baddies. Instead, the audience helps defeat the trolls by offering affirming messages about the good qualities of the insecure characters. (It may sound a bit virtuous on paper but we promise it’s awesome!) We were expecting good things from the songs in this show, which are written by SpitLip’s Felix Hagan (Operation Mincemeat) and we were not disappointed. They’re as witty as anything you’ll find in an adult production, and they’re catchy too – Mummy still has “Like and Subscribe” stuck in her head and suspects it will be there for many more days to come!

At the performance we attended, Parkinson had suffered an injury and needed to use a wheelchair, which added an extra layer to what was already a diverse, body-positive production. Although an announcement was made informing us that changes would be made to accommodate the wheelchair, the apology didn’t feel necessary. It worked perfectly this way (with a little help from Dandini’s assistant, Dave) and really reinforced the show’s inclusive messaging. Even injured, Parkinson is excellent as Dandini and it’s so good to see a non-binary performer proudly being themselves on the stage.

We had an great time at Cinderella the AWESOME Truth and would wholeheartedly recommend this fantastic production to families looking for a festive treat. It’s entertaining, empowering and – well – awesome.

Cinderella the AWESOME Truth plays at Polka Theatre from 12 November 2021 to 30 January 2022. We received complimentary tickets to the performance on 5 December in return for a review.