Review: Soho Cinders, Union Theatre

“Why don’t handsome princes
Practice what they preach”

Though there’s nothing ostensibly Christmassy about Stiles + Drewe’s Cinderella remake Soho Cinders, it was still a little odd to see the show debut at the Soho Theatre in the height of summer in 2012. This revival at the Union Theatre is a little more festively timed and through Will Keith’s direction and Joanne McShane’s choreography, provides a level of entertainment to rival even the best of pantomimes.

The book, by Drewe and Elliot Davis, puts a gay spin on the story – fresh-faced escort Robbie is our Cinderella, closeted bisexual London mayoral candidate James Prince his Prince Charming, and older gay man (and client) Lord Bellingham just one of the flies in the ointments of their happy ever after. But though we’re in the world of contemporary London politics, there’s also a pair of ‘ugly’ sisters and a ball that everyone wants to attend to ensure some of that Cinderella magic sticks.

And that is where Soho Cinders shines best, in its sillier, more fantastical moments (for all the of-the-moment Trump and Uber gags, this is still a sanitised fairytale version of Soho and that this is an all-white company representing contemporary London is not unproblematic). From the knock off Moschino handbag to the WKD blue drunk through a straw, Natalie Harman’s Dana and Michaela Stern’s Clodagh make as appealingly awful a pair of ugly sisters in animal print bodysuits and furry onesies as you could ever hope to see, coming preciously close to stealing the show in ‘I’m So Over Men’. 

And Elle Rose Hughes’ design wisely maximises the wide open space to allow McShane’s strong choreographical vision to play out, it’s an ambitious way of using the space but it is done with a confidence that pays off beautifully. Whether bringing to life classic fairytale ballroom scenes or throwing in some very hot same-sex pairings into the dance-off of ‘It’s Hard To Tell’, it’s just a thrill to watch this company work like this at such close quarters.

Likewise, there’s much to enjoy in the performances of characters that don’t necessarily bear up to too much scrutiny. Joshua Lewindon’s Robbie (at best a hopeless naif, at worst a money-grabbing schemer) and Lewis Asquith’s James (bisexual or not, once a cheater…) pair up well and their ‘Gypsies of the Ether’ is just gorgeous. Likewise Emily Deamer’s Velcro (who gets a pass for her dramatic timing) and Lowri Walton’s Marilyn (impossibly saint-like though beautifully dressed) are both excellent, never better than in aching duet ‘Let Him Go’.

But the beauty of Keith’s production is that you never think of this whilst watching the show, it is that well-balanced and engagingly well-performed. And though I’m picking at these threads, it’s a show that I continue to enjoy immensely with one of Stiles + Drewe’s most consistently tuneful scores, delivered here well by musical director Sarah Morrison. Looking for some good-natured, escapist musical fun? Oh yes you are.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)

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