There are good Christmas shows and then there is Sally Cookson’s Cinderella, a 2011 show that sprinkles joy from the start. Its the show that probably truly began the reign of Cookson, without this there would be no Peter Pan at Bristol Old Vic, no Pan no invite to do Jane Eyre at the King Street address and then a transfer to the National with it, which in turn led to the invite to recreate the boy who never grows up for the monolithic South Bank venue.
Her budgets may have got larger but the magic she generates with this work can hardly be topped. Though I claimed at the time that Jane Eyre was a trim away from being a masterpiece (though strangely the one part version I had pined for never felt as complete for me as the two part one did) little did I realise at the time that she had already created one in a splicing together of various versions to create a new take on the tale that is less syrupy then Disney and with enough gruesome glee to appease the most hardened of Grimm fans.
Most pleasingly the heroine isn’t some young girl waiting to be whisked to happiness by her Prince but an adventurous, mischievous wit who prowls the land in her Doc Martens and calls out to the birds with a number of impressive different hues. Isabella Marshall, a returnee from last years Birmingham cast, has already made a striking impression in Bristol this year, with an Ophelia that ranks alongside the best I’ve seen. Her Ella has some of the same characteristics she brought to Hamlet’s doomed lover, a tower of strength that even in tragedy shines bright like a beacon and an open hearted determination to find the goodness in the world. It’s little wonder that Joey Hickman’s Prince is smitten at first glance.
Hickman’s ornithologist is a delight, a boy becoming a man with his book of birds and a desire to take to the stage and sing do-wap for his guests at the ball. A geek with a heart, its another sign of Cookson’s revisionism that hero’s can take many forms. Yet though he may find his inner hero he is no match for the splendid hissable villainy of Craig Edwards, a drag Mother In Law from hell, made up like the figuring of Edvard Munch’s The Scream, intent on ensuring her prim and proper offspring advance at the expense of her unwanted daughter in law. He dangles the role just the right side of terrifying for the easily terrified in the audience, though his self-administered solution to fit his daughters foot into a slipper definitely had some squirming in their seats in delighted nausea.
Lucy Tuck elastic limbed step sister and Dorian Simpson as the son who finds his own place and an ally in Ella are also both superb while musicians Brian Hargreaves and Alex Heane keep the whole night rolling along with a number of jaunty tunes that stay in the head for days afterwards. The two hours are a genuine delight, highlight after highlight, set piece after set piece piled on until you get dizzy with the sheer exuberance of it all. Christmas is the life blood of most theatres and one hopes Tobacco Factory Theatres and Travelling Light can ride the wave of this one for a number of years to come. Christmas shows really don’t get any better than this, a real life affirming piece that will be enjoyed by tot and granny alike. Magical.