Birmingham Royal Ballet
by David Mead
November 23, 2012 -- Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham, UK
Injuries are a real bane for an artistic director. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s men are experiencing something of a spate of them at the moment, leading to more than one reworking of the planned casting for the “Cinderella” season, the latest of which threw together Iain Mackay and Nao Sakuma. It is a partnership rarely seen in a story ballet but they swept all before them. Even they seemed to sense it was going well. In the Act II pas de deux in particular there was a real sense of them really going for it. They made the trickiest of lifts look easy, even the dramatic one hand overhead ones. It has to be said that they were helped along by Paul Murphy and the orchestra cracking on at a fair rate, but everything was attacked with flair and everything came off brilliantly.
Of course, by the time Mackay made his entrance pretty much everyone in the audience had fallen for Sakuma’s downtrodden heroine. She really is a very good dance-actress. Stuck in John Macfarlane’s gloomy cellar kitchen, all dirty tiles and peeling paint, barefoot and with no trace of make-up, she cut a pitiful sight as she was picked on by her stepsisters and virtually ignored by her stepmother, for who she was very much a non-person.
Samara Downs cut a gloriously tall and haughty figure as surely the pushiest mother of all time. There is only one thing on her mind, and that’s getting one of her daughters married off to the Prince. You sense this is not for their sake, though. Rather, her daughters are her route to the top of the social ladder and nothing is going to get in her way. The problem is that not only do Skinny (Victoria Marr) and Dumpy (Angela Paul) fail to master the social graces on every count, they are your archetypical moody, recalcitrant, constantly whinging teenagers too.
Her problems were brought home at the ball. Skinny and Dumpy were having a whale of a time chasing the men and, in the latter’s case, the cakes. They were wreaking havoc at every turn. There was wonderful dancing going on a plenty, but at the side of the stage and in a scene stealing moment, there was mum giving Skinny the most marvellous telling off after yet another hilarious faux pas. I could almost hear the words, “What do you think you are playing at? If you do that one more time, my girl…”
There is so much more for all ages. I particularly enjoyed James Barton’s dancing master who finally loses patience with his uncooperative charges. For kids of all ages there are the lizards, mice and the most wonderful giant frog that help the Fairy Godmother speed Cinderella to the ball. And MacFarlane’s huge industrial clock that comes together and booms out the chimes of midnight is a masterpiece. Yes, the final scene, all glitter and sparkling silver, is a bit saccharin sweet. But who cares. This is a “Cinderella” to dream about.
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