Belvoir’s ‘Cinderella’, currently playing downstairs, is a contemporary retelling of a tale we’ve seen in many different forms, many different times. But Matthew Whittet’s version, directed by Anthea Williams and starring Whittet and Mandy McElhinney, is a nicely crafted combination of loneliness, hope, strength, fantasy and humour.
Taking the submissive heroine of the popular fairytale, our Cinderella, Ashley (McElhinney), is now a feisty middle-aged orphan and custodian of rescue cat, Pumpkin. Braving on-line dating, she goes to meet face-to-face with Richard (Whittet), gets spooked, runs off, leaving a shoe which is returned to her by Ash (Whittet) and thus the awakening of romance in its full sweet awkwardness from snorting rice, daggy dancing and their first physical encounter, is all wrapped up in a soundtrack from Hall and Oates.
Whittet’s ‘Cinderella’ is not afraid to subvert the genre by taking it back to some of the more interesting interpretations of the tale that make it far less Disney and more grief-stricken vigilante. There are lovely moments that remind us that women of all ages are as far-removed from the traditional stereotype as you can imagine. When Ashley confronts Ash about his preconceptions of what movies women like to watch or as she reimagines for us the story of how she rescued Pumpkin from the ugly step-mother and step-sisters, reinvented as local crazy lady and her two bully cats, we are taken on a new journey of the familiar but told as a gentle edict to pro-actively empower more than a passive wait for rescue.
But underlying this comic awkwardness of love- real and imagined, we witness a permeating sadness of loss, of trying to fill that gap, of fragility and the fear of embracing change and vulnerability with someone else. Williams manages to extract all of this from her cast and as Whittet playfully dances for the audience whilst removing his clothes, it certainly added to the delightful dagginess of the show. Both Whittet and McElhinney capture the dimensions of these characters and make us feel both warmth and pity for their plight.
Elizabeth Gadsby’s set, a carpeted transformative space, complete with cushions, gutter, falling leaves and a constantly ticking clock taking us closer and closer to midnight, manages to convey the romance, the reality and the tension of time. Kelly Ryall’s sound plays with nostalgia and the present, merging a soundtrack of a time long gone with the harsh realities of a time out of place now. Once I hear Hall and Oates, I know I’m in good hands.
There is a deceptive depth to this seemingly simple play. It’s lovely to watch and finishes on a note of hope. Its endearing cast offer us a piece of contemporary romance aimed squarely for all ages but allows the focus to resonate most with its demographic.
This was a very pleasant way to spend an evening.