Over the last few years, Greenwich Theatre has sought to establish a trend of staging summer shows for families to emulate the conventional winter season (albeit on a smaller scale than their annual panto). With the productions taking place in mid-August, a visit to Greenwich Theatre is always a nice way to mark the end of the summer holidays. And since there is never a shortage of Cinderellas during December, what better way to cement the new tradition than a summery celebration of the classic fairy tale?
Directed by James Haddrell, Cinderella is a fun family show which has all the hallmarks we have come to expect of a Greenwich Theatre summer production (including the return of musical director, David Haller who has composed some brilliantly memorable music for this year’s show). Devised by Sally Cookson, Adam Peck and members of the original company, the production takes its inspiration from the Brothers Grimm version of the tale, meaning no Disneyfied pumpkin carriage, fairy-godmother or glass slippers.
Instead, our Ella (played brilliantly by Addy Caulder-James in her professional debut) sports sparkly Dr Martens and is transported to the ball with a little help from some feathery friends. She’s not at all bothered about dancing with a boring prince and she certainly doesn’t want to marry one. She’s far more interested in finding a fellow birdwatcher who she met in the forest, and who happened to have a spare invitation to the royal bash. Of course, it turns out that the mystery twitcher is none other than the prince himself (Rishi Manuel), resulting in an embarrassed Ella making a hasty exit from the ball, leaving her bemused beau trying to track her down with an abandoned boot.
It’s a great adaptation which strikes a nice balance between panto style humour and honouring the darkness of the Grimm fairytale. Pete Ashmore makes a menacing stepmother, offering more than just a camp, comedy villain; the cruelty displayed towards Ella has real impact in the scenes where her stepmother tries to thwart her attempts to go to the ball. Ella’s stepsiblings (Lara Lewis and Harry Edwin) become more rounded characters in this production, both also suffering at the hands of their mother. Changing one of the stepsisters to a stepbrother works well to add greater depth to the story, although combining this with the choice to play a couple of female characters in drag does mean a disappointing gender imbalance in the cast as a whole.
There is some great use of audience interaction throughout the well-paced production (which runs at around an hour and a half, including an interval) and some fantastic integration of music, including a beautiful opening number which allows the audience to get up close with the instruments. Extra magic is also added by clever set and lighting design by Adrian Hampton and Matthew Keywood respectively.
Overall, Cinderella is another successful summer production from Greenwich Theatre. You have just one more week to make it to the ball, so slip on your sparkliest shoes and get yourself to Greenwich for a contemporary yet suitably Grimm take on the nation’s most loved fairy story.
Cinderella plays at Greenwich Theatre from 18 August to 3 September 2023. We received complimentary press tickets to the matinee on Friday 25 August.
Age recommendation: 6+