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Cinderella - Hope Mill Theatre

Well, it happened to various fellow fans of Bat Out of Hell the Musical when it came (back) to Manchester, and then eventually it happened to me. Not having secured a room months and months in advance in central Manchester, to stay anywhere half decent in the city centre was going to cost at least £189 on a Saturday night. (Yes, there was a cheaper option, but I wasn’t eligible for the top bunk, or indeed the bottom bunk, in a 12-bed dormitory for females only.) So I did what the Batters did, and wanting to see the Hope Mill Theatre’s production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella – the ampersand is, as various press representatives have impressed on me over the years, extremely important to the R&H branding – I booked a hotel near the airport instead.

There are two Premier Inns near Manchester Airport, Runger Lane North and Runger Lane South, and with the former being marginally cheaper than the latter, I bagged a room for £82.75 including the infamous unlimited Premier Inn breakfast. As I wasn’t familiar with Manchester’s transport network, I was over-reliant on taxis on arrival - £32 from Piccadilly Station to the hotel, and then £25 (this time in a pre-booked taxi) back into town to get dinner and see the show. My driver on the return journey into the city centre told me how horrendous the traffic can be in central Manchester (the only place he could think of that was worse is central London), so after the show I took the hint and paid £5.90 for a single ticket from Manchester Piccadilly to Manchester Airport Station, and then £10 for a taxi to the hotel, as I didn’t fancy a forty-minute walk late at night, which would invariably have been longer as, my sense of direction being what it is, I would have taken a wrong turning somewhere.

It was £11 for my taxi back to Manchester Airport Station, and then another £5.90 train fare to the city centre. Still, it was an adventure, and after all that there was still a cost saving of £16.45. Every little helps, as a major supermarket used to say. I could turn the heating on for about eight seconds for that. And hey, I learnt a bit more about how to get around Manchester – the train takes less than half an hour from city centre to airport, while I was put off by the 67 minutes I was quoted by the tram operator, and presumably it would be even longer on the bus. The best thing about an airport hotel, especially one some distance from the terminals, is that there’s no city centre noise. Such a peaceful, peaceful night.

I was also pleased to see what has become my favourite Manchester eatery, Bravissimi!, still going strong – it’s fairly simple Italian dishes but I love how quickly everything gets served. I swear I’ve waited longer at McDonald’s for my order than I have at Bravissimi! Like almost every other Italian restaurant they have staff yelling at one another, and I’ve no idea whether someone is being promoted or being given a dressing down. It was also busier than I’ve ever remembered it before – and yes, that includes pre-pandemic visits. I haven’t bothered estimating how much I saved by going by National Express coach as opposed to the perennially unreliable Avanti West Coast train line. The coach even pulled into Manchester twenty minutes before the estimated arrival time on my ticket.

By now, most readers would have realised this isn’t a press review of Cinderella. The production’s leading lady, Grace Mouat, was indisposed at the time of writing having sustained a serious injury, and so the theatre decided to postpone press night. Having seen understudy Ria Tanaka’s performance, however, they should really get on with it – she holds her own alongside a cast whose singing voices are perfectly suited to their roles. A sense of grandeur and palatial opulence is achieved thanks to the use of projections, although the staging is inventive: an early scene in which Prince Topher (Jacob Fowler) rides his horse through his kingdom is delightful. A little later, animal puppetry is impressively lifelike – it’s a slight pity more doesn’t appear. Much is made of the prince’s entire name, His Royal Highness Christopher Rupert Windermere Vladimir Karl Alexander Francois Reginald Lancelot Herman Gregory James (no, I didn’t recall all of that off the top of my head), and in this updated version – the book has been revised by Douglas Carter Beane (who also came up with the play The Little Dog Laughed and the musical Xanadu) – there isn’t the sluggish pacing (by contemporary standards) that plagues a lot of revivals of shows from the days of the Great American Songbook.

That said, it very much feels like a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical (entirely because it IS one), with Audra Cramer leading a seven-piece band which collectively sound like at least double their number, and with a company as talented as this, it’s difficult to pick out a stand-out performance, though Julie Yammanee’s Fairy Godmother received sustained applause after ‘There’s Music in You’ in the second half, hitting that Really Long and Really High Note so beloved by musical theatre audiences on both sides of the Atlantic. I loved Matthew McDonald’s Lord Pinkleton, not so much the town crier as the kingdom crier: some suspension of disbelief is required, but not much, to imagine a voice as booming as that would carry through an entire kingdom.

At a time when various people have called for a ‘General Election Now!’ in Britain, it is noteworthy that in the show, the prince, influenced by other characters (as ever, I am reluctant to give too much away) announces an election to appoint a Prime Minister. He isn’t King yet because the kingdom is still under a regency. It’s not Britain: it’s a different kingdom, where everyone has American accents, they have presidential style elections for Prime Minister and there isn’t a Parliament to be dissolved because the palace is the seat of government.

It seems like the proverbial kitchen sink and then some has been thrown at this production – the costumes (Elly Wdowski) are elaborate – and that includes the title character in her usual patchwork ‘rags’, which is far from threadbare. Given a larger stage there’s more that could be done with William Whelton’s choreography – here, it’s elegant and suitably restrained (in a good way) that suits the size of the venue. The narrative is refreshingly different from the Disney version, and indeed from the Andrew Lloyd Webber one, whilst retaining a strong emphasis on kindness. And why not? To be kind is something one does, not something one simply tells others to do on Twitter, or whichever social media platform people use these days. It fits – not just the shoes, but everything.

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