Andrew Lloyd Webber puts his name front and centre with this new version of Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, if only it was worth it…
“The only thing I’ve learnt from you is to be a completely heartless bitch”
If this were a show about Cinderella’s stepmother and the Queen of Belleville, then I think Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new show Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella might stand a fighting chance. Between them, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Rebecca Trehearn effortessly chew up the stage at the Gillian Lynne Theatre and steal pretty much every scene they’re in, climaxing in a brilliantly spiky and knowing duet.
Problem is, they’re trying to present a modernised version of the classic fairytale and not even an Academy Award-winning writer can really square this obstinate circle. Emerald Fennell’s take on Cinderella is to make her a goth in a picture-perfect, beauty-obsessed town and the first thing we see this Cinders do is graffiti a statue of Prince Charming (who is missing presumed dead and the brother of her best pal – apparently being a goth also means being a heartless bitch…).
This tension between the reimagined Cinderella and the story beats she still has to hit is sadly one which Carrie Hope Fletcher can’t resolve. Saddled with a mostly anodyne score from Lloyd Webber, it is performatively bolshy but rarely credible. And with the Fairy Godmother being transformed into a plastic surgeon here (an entertaing Gloria Onitiri), there’s a real fudging of the messaging, particularly in changing yourself to try and become more appealing to someone you already know.
It’s an awkward story to try and modernise and with a talent such as Fennell at hand, you wonder why it was too much to ask for an original tale to showcase the talent here. For Laurence Connor’s production is stuffed with it. Gabriela Tylesova’s design spins the theatre around and Joann M Hunter’s choreo moves with it in time. The aforementioned Hamilton-Barritt and Trehearn do so well, Caleb Roberts and Ivano Turco make their own impact and a taut and ripped ensemble impress throughout.
Cinderella has certainly had a troubled beginning through no fault of its own, suffering numerous agonising delays, but I wish I could say the wait had been worth it for me. But it helps no-one to over-praise overblown and overthought musicals in the name of trying to revive the British theatre ecology and heaven knows Lord Lloyd Webber has already been taking up way too much oxygen in the room where that has been concerned. Saddest of all, on this evidence, it doesn’t even look like he’s still coming up with the goods.