Beautiful snow pigeons and sky-high silver birches fill the stage of the Lyric Hammersmith in its Christmas production of Cinderella. But unlike the Disney-esque, sugar-coated pantomimes and family shows filling some theatres at this time of year, the Lyric Hammersmith has decided to take the tale back to its original Brothers Grimm roots – warts and all.
Cinderella, played by the delicate but feisty Elizabeth Chan, is a kind, beautiful young girl, whose life is changed beyond recognition with the arrival of her new stepmother and two stepsisters, Dorothy and Candide. Through manipulation and lies, the new women in Cinderella’s father’s life poison him against her, and she is made to live as the family’s servant, sleeping in the ashes by the fire for warmth. When the family loses everything, Cinderella’s father steals an invitation to the Snow Festival Ball, where the Prince will look for his bride. Resigned to staying behind at the cold miserable cottage, Cinderella can but dream of the Prince she once met in the forest. Unless, of course, her magical snow pigeon friends have any say in the matter…
Gone are the fairy godmothers, Buttons, pumpkin carriages and mice, in exchange for a darker, simpler story, where it is Cinderella’s commitment to her late mother that creates the magic happenings. The story is set to a soundtrack by musician Terje Isungset, who sits on a platform above the trees creating mystical and beautiful backdrops with strange instruments such as a jaw harp and a giant horn made from ice.
The narrative is told through the characters themselves, as they flit back and forth from reality to a world of fairy-tale stories explaining Cinderella and the Prince’s heritage. The actors slip on gloves with cloth snow pigeons attached to become the magical birds, and use branches to portray stags in effective staging that requires the audience to use its imagination along with the actors. Muted brown and beige costumes are replaced with fluorescent sashes and dresses in the ball scenes, bringing the royal palace and the stage to life.
Those familiar with the tales of the Brothers Grimm will be well aware of their dark and gruesome elements – something made very obvious when the stepmother takes drastic action with a knife to try and force her daughters’ feet into the glass slipper – but these are the bits children will undoubtedly love most from this unique and other-worldly production.