La Cenerentola, Grange Park, Northington

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The Independent Culture

Where can you find 80 pairs of trainers, a rubbish shoot, a fruit machine, women wrestling, characters in cupboards, sausages in a handbag, lager-vomiting, child (and parent) abuse, spilt spaghetti, scarlet panties, silly wigs, battle fatigues, a firing squad, a clockwork pig and Batman at the same time?

Where can you find 80 pairs of trainers, a rubbish shoot, a fruit machine, women wrestling, characters in cupboards, sausages in a handbag, lager-vomiting, child (and parent) abuse, spilt spaghetti, scarlet panties, silly wigs, battle fatigues, a firing squad, a clockwork pig and Batman at the same time?

This is the slapstick Cinderella. There are moments in Nigel Lowery's surreal, pseudo-1950s staging when a hundred blaring carphones would have resonated better with Rossini's punchy comedy. Or when, after 500 dubious visual gags you want to yell "stop, no more!" Indeed, when the frenetic nonsense eases, and the music has a wee chance of getting through, Deanne Meek's forceful coloratura pours over you like clear water - even if she's hammered her folk ditty to death; and rubbery Robert Poulton's self-indulgently appalling Don Magnifico became, briefly, truly funny.

Like Achim Freyer, Lowery seems one of those ex-designer directors who stages scenes in splurges, like Jackson Pollock without the order. There are a dozen very witty ideas; the rest even the late Francis Howerd and Benny Hill might have disdained. What's worse, with father and sisters OTT and out of control, Wyn Pencarreg's fine Alidoro gets eclipsed, and the magic scarcely happens. If you set out with sympathy for Clorinda, and Cinders in sunglasses looks like an ugly sister too, you ain't got much clarity there, luv.

Let's not kill joy. Like randy romps? Go for it. I kept trying to listen for the music and failing. The onstage ball band looked a great idea, but there's scarcely a chance to relish the woodwind fripperies and subtly aching strings which Sergio la Stella stands signalling like a Milan carabiniero on point duty.

The treasure was Fredrik Strid. Last year as Grange Park's Nangis (in Chabrier's Le Roi malgre lui) the pellucid Swedish tenor tended to flatten: happily he only succumbed in the last scene. His first appearance is a joy, and he brings Ramiro a boyish pathos - anyone wanting to revamp Death in Venice with Tadzio as a singing role has his answer here - that's relatively rare. Frank Lopez's Dandini does the patter duet well and shines in "Un segreto d'importanza", where Magnifico apprehends the grim truth. Both uglies are good singers; and Poulton, when freed of baggage, can be terrific. "He's common, with vulgar habits", ventures someone. Aptly sums up the production.

At Grange Park, Northington, Hants, to 5 July; then Neville Holt, near Market Harborough, 9 and 11 July (01962 868600)

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