Cinderella, St James Theatre, London


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The Independent Culture

This bewitching take on Cinderella – first seen last year at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol – bounces off the Brothers Grimm adaptation of the story rather than the Disney-influencing  Perrault version.

So out go the Fairy Godmother, the pumpkin, the golden carriage, the midnight deadline etc in this collaboration from Travelling Light and Tobacco Factory Theatre. In come Lisa Kerr's winning, tomboyish Ella who wears her dead dad's bowler and spangled boots; a geeky, asthmatic, bird-watching Prince (adorably portrayed by Thomas Eccleshare); prim-and-proper sailor-suited step-siblings (one of each sex) and the excellent Craig Edwards who disturbingly transmogrifies before your very eyes from Ella's loving father into the vindictive brute of a stepmother who forces the heroine into an apron as though it were a strait-jacket. 

Performed by a terrifically engaging five-strong ensemble and a live band whose drolly deployed music ranges from doo-wop to cheesy Perry Como, Sally Cookson's spare production achieves a wittily inventive and heart-warming balance between the darker aspects of this tale of survival over cruelty and loss and the deliciously daft comedy. 

In place of the Fairy Godmother, there's a protective chorus of birds – a booted, bespectacled, and bobble-hatted bunch who hop about the stage, cooing and cawing and flapping beautiful hand-held wings. This lot fly to Ella's rescue whenever she is set sadistically impossible tasks and there's a lovely point where it becomes apparent that they embody the watchfully solicitous spirit of the dead father.  

I loved Tom Godwin as the gawky, secretly good-hearted step-brother who betrays such potty natural flair for the social graces in the hilarious scene where his galumping sister (excellent Lucy Tuck) is being rehearsed for the ball that the gold-digging stepmother, with a roar of “We need another dress!”, decides that he too must make an attempt to ensnare Eccleshare's shy, nerdy Prince. 

The latter is the kind of guy who'd be handsome without his glasses and who is so naïve that he mistakes the first stirrings of love for the symptoms of bird flu. Strapping blokes in sticky-out flamingo-pink frocks; toes amputated with a cleaver so that a foot can fit into the silver boot – folk-tale and farce are expertly fused. 

There's one opportunity for a “she's behind you” moment during the audience-participation quest for the boot's owner, but the Prince protests tongue-in-cheekily that: “We're not that kind of show.  This is serious theatre”.  It's both, in fact, and will enchant children, parents and grandparents alike.

To 26 January; 0844 264 2140