Last Friday evening I went to see Matthew Bourne's 'Cinderella' at Bradford's Alhambra Theatre. I had been looking forward to the production for some time as I had both seen and worked on Bourne's 'Swan Lake' when I was a lighting technician at the theatre a few years ago, and having been bowled over by that ballet I was sure the same would be true of this one.
I was not disappointed. From the opening notes of Prokofiev's score, accompanied by the sound of WW2 air raid sirens, I was hooked. Bourne has set the ballet in London during the Blitz, an inspired setting which lends itself perfectly to the story. Cinderella is the downtrodden, unpaid servant in her stepmother's boarding house, shared with her father, an invalid both physically and mentally; a precocious, younger brother; two ugly stepsisters; and two lodgers, one with a shoe fetish, the other a camp tailor. Much of the first act is about setting up the story, albeit with a wonderful and clever pas de deux between Cinders and a mannequin dressed as her 'prince', a handsome and injured RAF pilot who stumbles into the boarding house on the eve of the grand ball. Judging by the snippets of conversations and expressions on people's faces in the interval between Acts 1 and 2, there was some confusion amongst the more traditionalist ballet 'goers' as to what was going on, as Cinderella appeared to have become a victim of the bombing raid which caused devastation and the destruction of the ballroom to where her family had been invited. The ballroom scene in Act 2 was revealed, as I had suspected it would be, as a sumptuous dream sequence, with our two heroes spending the night together, beautifully acted out in a moving and sensuous pas de deux. The pilot's search for his one true love in Act 3, resulted in mental breakdown and eventually, a tear-jerking reunion with Cinderella, with crystal slippers et al.
Bourne's talent for story-telling is as strong as ever, and Prokofiev's music could have been written specifically for this production. The setting for this ballet actually gave the music a new quality, and there were moments when I had to remind myself that it hadn't been written as a film score, such was the effect of the staging. I found myself on an emotional rollercoaster throughout, smiling joyfully one moment, sobbing uncontrollably the next, and actually left the theatre feeling breathless. The set was simple, stylish and very, very clever, with the feel of a 1940's film, with more than a nod to the cinematography of films such as 'Brief Encounter' and 'Casablanca'. The lighting was beautiful and unobtrusive, as it should be, creating atmosphere and mood without being too clever or tricksy. I fell asleep that night with the score ringing in my ears and the dancers dancing in my head, a smile on my face and a desire to see it all again.
Over the weekend I had time to reflect on the experience, and started to apply some of John Berger's theory, as discussed in my previous post. Nowadays, it is possible to purchase DVD's of productions one has seen, in much the same way as it is possible to buy poster reproductions of great works of art, but in the same way that there is no substitute for the real thing where painting and sculpture are concerned, the same is true of live performance. Watching a DVD of this production will merely remind me of the wonderful evening I had at the theatre, but I feel sure it will not produce the same physical reaction that I had whilst sitting in the theatre, accompanied by the music and the collective experience of sitting with like-minded people, watching other human beings tell a story with their bodies and faces alone. The actual experience of being in the presence of such awesome beauty and talent cannot be duplicated on a shiny plastic disc. Which is why going to the theatre, like going to an art gallery, is a pastime that will never die; there may be peaks and troughs depending on the economic climate, but there will always be an appetite for original art and live performance, as the full house on Friday night proved.