Book and Lyrics by Lynda Radley
Music and Lyrics by Michael John McCarthy
Directed by Jemima Levick
Expectantly and admirably, many of Scotland’s festive treats this year plant a seed of hope for the future of the natural world. And amidst the Christmas cheering of pop culture pantos and endless Dickens adaptations: a wholly sincere and original take on a familiar tale is something precious. Capturing the nuances and understanding of weaving storytelling together with a message is the new musical adaptation of Cinderella, currently playing at the Dundee Rep.
The clash between contemporary and traditional ripples throughout Cinderella, stirring most of the tension between characters and fueling the misunderstandings and barriers. On the one hand, Ella finds affinity with the farm she tends to in memory of her parents. While in the other, the reliance on consumption and immediate gratification spoils her stepsiblings and wicked stepmother.
But touchingly, neither is entirely to blame, neither is at universal fault. Lynda Radley and Michael John McCarthy’s earnest script has a rich knowledge of the complexities of generational divides and issues surrounding the climate crisis. With moments of genius in the script concerning the dangers of solely growing one crop, soil erosions, and spurning the advances of science that may help. Where the immediacy and indulgences of a TikTok generation struggle with the graft and kinship of nature, the stubbornness of Ella’s connection with the past ultimately lead to her rejection of the one thing which may save the farm.
There is a myriad of emotions that our titular Cinderella, or Ella for short, captures marvellously through the show. Hannah Visocchi is as vicious as they are charming and sincere. And though they channel the magic and whimsy of the classical fairy tale, this Cinderella retains a bite of defiance, rather than surrendering to the more docile history of the role. Visocchi, with Jemima Levick’s (as always) brilliant direction, shapes Ella into one of the more accessible and relatable characters this season; a young woman trying their hardest but struggling to accept help from others and find friends in this isolating world.
Well, that’s not strictly true. Ella has two friends: they hold her up wherever she may venture, literally. Sebastian Lim-Seet and Karen Young perform swing roles throughout the show but make a mark when the mystical magical meddling takes hold and transforms Ella’s wellie boots into two footmen for her Pumpkin carriage/rickshaw. Freshly gifted with life, Rightie and Leftie bring a tremendous sense of glee to the production, though perhaps a touch too saccharine for even the most doe-eyed of audiences. Under Vicki Manderson’s movement direction, however, Lim-Seet and Young bring energy to ensemble pieces and sell the musicality of it all.
But what isn’t sugary sweet and sickly is the romance, which handles the love-story of Ella and the Prince with a fondness which forges a friendship and attraction steadily. Achieved chiefly through Visocchi and Jatinder Singh Randhawa performance as Liam King, the pair have an instant chemistry as friends. It’s a demonstration of Cinderella’s tight pacing, where elements of motivation (though sadly not all characters) develop at a natural pace.
Vocally, Visocchi holds a strong presence on stage, exuding both enjoyment and passion for the role – as do her (less than) wicked stepsiblings Florence and Laurence. Marketing-obsessed maniac (we’re saying nothing about the accuracy of this role) Florence and bumbling gym-lad Laurence are never as antagonistic as the fairy tale makes out, especially the earnest Laurence. They join Visocchi in offering a rich dimension of character, especially with Adam Greene’s limited stage time as Laurence – whilst Leah Byrne gives a bold, brash, and wonderful musical performance as Florence.
Whilst the comedic talents of the cast flourish, Radley & McCarthy choose to dampen the traditional fairy-tale villainous, instead opting for a more recognisable apathetic Step Mother sponging off her children and an avaricious business tycoon. And perhaps this misstep of the viciousness of our antagonists is where some of Cinderella’s sewn seeds fail to sprout.
Turning in otherwise brilliant comedic performances as chief antagonists Apollo King and Lenore, Ella’s Stepmother, John Macaulay and Ann Louise Ross provide superb character performances but are never fully able to stretch their villainous wings under the show’s writing. There’s a sense that (particularly) Ross has sharpened their teeth for this role, only able to fully commit to making Ella suffer for small moments in the script. The pair’s duet also draws out the limitation of the production’s musicality: it’s composition soars, lyrically Cinderella isn’t creating new ground.
Ruffling through the soil, Cinderella may outwardly appear as a glittering new musical but shines with tradition and heart from tales of old. A uniquely triumphant storytelling endeavour which grows into a whopper of a family escapade of song, dance, and character. And though passionately contemporary in appearance, has an old-soul at its core; honest, gleaming, and splendid.
Shines With Tradition
Cinderella runs at the Dundee Rep until December 31st.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan
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