Cinderella - Royal Albert Hall
I’m not entirely sure what the foreign couple directly behind me at the Royal Albert Hall were applauding and shouting “Bravo!” at during the curtain call of this English National Ballet production of Cinderella. Perhaps it was the sound of their own voices, as they enjoyed them and the rest of us endured them pretty much throughout the whole performance, and no amount of dirty looks, shushing and direct requests for quiet were going to stop them. You will probably have far worse stories than mine about poor conduct and behaviour during live performances, and it is a sad indictment that I should count my blessings that at least the yobbos didn’t break my legs. That there is no spoken dialogue – this being a ballet – is no excuse: there was some beautiful music composed by Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953), played by the eighty-piece English National Ballet Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gavin Sutherland. And I simply couldn’t appreciate very much of it for all the blah, blah, blah from behind.
Anyway, there are ways of stretching out a simple storyline for as long as one wants to. The London Palladium pantomime in December 2016/January 2017 went on for just shy of three hours – this one went on for two hours and forty-five minutes (not, as the programme indicated, two hours and thirty minutes), and unusually for a show shorter than three hours, there are two intervals. Not one ‘normal’ interval and a later ‘pause’ of five minutes – both breaks were twenty minutes. The bars must have done well out of this run.
According to the ‘Stories to Grow By’ website, the Cinderella fairy tale takes about ten minutes at most to read – it could probably be read out at a primary school assembly from beginning to end. The focus, here, then, is on the dancing (as it should be) and showing off a great set, which included a chandelier “by kind arrangement of Sir Cameron Mackintosh” – it is the same one, so some regular patrons of the theatre tell me (with the ability to provide photographic evidence if required), used for the twenty-fifth anniversary concerts at the Royal Albert Hall for the Andrew Lloyd Webber (or whichever composers he may or may not have siphoned off) musical The Phantom of the Opera.
The creation of the horses and carriage using props and members of the company to close out the first act (of three) was particularly impressive. It takes a while, though, before the full spectacle of the fifty-nine strong adult cast (plus three children) is on display. In the meantime, the ‘arena’, usually taken up by anything up to 800 members of the audience (if all the seats are taken out there, as they are for the BBC Proms), sometimes looks rather bare, not helped by the huge backdrops and projected images that cover the front of the auditorium (neither the organ nor the ‘choir’ seating areas are visible).
I saw Swan Lake done at the Royal Albert Hall in June 2010 – that production was better at making full use of the available performance space than this one. This one just gets lost in the relative vastness of the venue. There’s no Fairy Godmother to speak of in this version either, and Cinderella (Alina Cojocaru) isn’t treated entirely unjustly, if only because her Father (Fabian Reimair) defends her, both physically and figuratively, from the physical and figurative attacks from her Mother (Stina Quagebeur). It feels somewhat modern, what with the doting father and abusive mother being portrayed when so many stories go for the father as the one striking blows.
Stepmother Hortensia (Tamara Rojo) gets an amusing scene in the ballroom, when glasses of champagne act as her dance partners. But ooh, the dance purists will be displeased. (Then again, when aren’t they displeased?) It didn’t, strictly speaking, need to be in the round, and it also didn’t need to have jokes about smelly feet and bad breath either (not offensive, but very boring and unimaginative), though as I am risking being the bloke in the stalls that doth protest too much, I shall simply conclude by saying it’s spectacular, it’s pretty and it’s an enjoyable experience.