First Night: Impure delight revels in illusion

Angela Carter's Cinderella; Lyric Theatre, London
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The Independent Online
NOT JUST Cinderella, but Angela Carter's Cinderella. If you think that tacking the name of a sharp feminist commentator and noted magical realist on to the title of a traditional panto makes it all sound a bit worryingly right-on and analytic for a Christmas treat, then think again.

This show is pure (and sometimes impure) delight. It keeps faith with Carter's imagination in two ways. First, it revels in the cheerful vulgarity and toy-theatre two-dimensionality of this very British art form.

And, secondly, there are sequences where it beautifully captures the dark poeticality of Carter's reworking of the Cinderella story in which the ghost of the heroine's mother returns in one animal form after another, giving her burnt and dispossessed child milk, clothes and the wherewithal to escape from her plight with a young man.

Played on a set of receding Pollock's Toy Theatre prosceniums which replicate the Lyric's own red-curtained arch, the production is a feast of inspired silliness and visual magic. It has the distinction of putting more rodents on stage than any other show since Sarah Kane's Cleansed, with all those rats gnawing at amputated limbs. But the gaggle of lovely finger-puppet mice here are more well-adjusted types and regale Cinders (an EastEnderish Angela Clerkin) with a delightfully potty song about the delights of gorging on cheese in the moonlight: "Cheese in the Moonlight/Oh what fun!/ The poignancy of Parmesan is wasted in the sun ..."

The show pools the imaginations of Neil Bartlett, the Lyric Hammersmith's auteur extraordinaire, and the Improbable Theatre gang - Lee Simpson, Phelim McDermott and Julian Crouch. The last pair were responsible for one of this year's brilliant, if macabre, successes - Shockheaded Peter.

Here, the same taste for visual bizarreries is exhilaratingly evident. In one sequence, all the cast members appear as Cinders' neglectful father barricaded behind copies of The Daily Telegraph and shedding sheets, which are then enchantingly moulded into the shapes of the ghostly mother's various animal incarnations. Never can that newspaper have been put to more constructive use.

And, thanks to the rare skills of illusionist Paul Kieve, white streamers spilling from the fairy godmother's mouth perform a breathtaking feat of aerial origami and form the skeleton of Cinderella's coach, the disembodied limbs and manes of horses dancing into a final stunningly beautiful assemblage. All that, and lashings of double entendre, drag and a hilarious male prince. Well, what are you waiting for?

Paul Taylor