Saturday, December 03, 2022

Cinderella – subtly changed times in this arresting evolution of the familiar tale (Cahoots at The MAC until Sunday 8 January)

Welcome to Cinderella, Cahoots-style. Everything is roughly as you’d expect. Or is it?

A once-rich woman and her two belligerent daughters come to live with a hard-working widower clockmaker and his only daughter. A posh ball invites aspirations of marriage and wealth from the upper classes. Young hearts are pulled in all directions. A clock strikes twelve. A fairy godmother can see a bigger picture unfolding. Much the Cahoots’ production of Cinderella at The MAC seems familiar.

Yet there’s also a monarch who is confined to bed following a death in the family. A flamboyant composer Wolfgang living in the King’s castle. A young lad calls in a girl’s garden until his father bans him from further contact with the unsuitable commoners. More than one shoe is left behind. And integrated into the storytelling, there are moments that make children and adults alike exclaim “ooooooh” and “where’d that come from” as the set reveals its secrets and characters appear from nowhere.

Score Draw Music’s songs and soundscape borrow from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, brilliantly riffing off Eine kleine Nachtmusik at every opportunity. It’s a masterly move, as the well-known melodies provide energetic foundations for the show’s new lyrics. Then out of the blue, the stage turns full La La Land with a new theme and choreography. While defying logic, it’s undeniably a lovely mix of old and new!

Diana Ennis’ set is a solid stone arch bridge with steps up each side. The space underneath is full of surprising reveals and subtle multi-layered video effects that can sandwich the real-life performers. You can see the progression of the effects from Cahoots’ experimentation during two years of Halloween shows at City Side Retail Park.

Ennis also pulls off big statement looks clothing Cinderella’s two stepsisters in stylish fluffy and puffy dresses. Their mother is kitted out in fortune teller chic. The fairy godmother looks like her outfit has been pulled through a hedge backwards. It’s a visual treat, and that’s before the quick changes and an on-stage transformation (that I missed as I was still gawking at the spark machines on top of the bridge … a misdirection that perhaps lasts a shade too long).

Big brash beams of light paint the air above the action. A starry backdrop stretches higher up than normal above the lighting trusses to make the pretty substantial set look smaller in scale to generate the audible “wow” from the audience. Meanwhile, Cahoots also explores the wonder of miniature with scaled down props like a fist-sized talking puppet bird, little houses with smoking chimneys, and an amazing origami-like orchestra.

The main characters are given a heavier sprinkling of complexity than is normal in a Christmas show. Every adult is dealing with grief and loss: it affects their decision making and skews each one’s moral compass. The step-sisters – played with a snarling vigour and arrestingly uncouth mouths by Cahoots alumni Phillipa O’Hara and Catriona McFeely – are as likely to fight with each other as Cinderella. Their duets and harmonies soar majestically above the ensemble.

Conor Quinn first appears as a local lad, whose heritage is later revealed. It's a character who is trying to balance duty, obedience and finding independence to follow his heart. All the while, Quinn’s voice is sublime in his solos and duets with Corrie Earley’s pleasing Cinderella. Allison Harding weaves her maternal character from vulnerable to controlling, knocking over anyone who gets in the way. Edalia Day’s Wolfgang is a voice of reason, and she steals every scene with a vibrant presence and a rich voice (and not just due to her purple glittery attire and well-developed sense of melodrama).

Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney’s production of Cinderella emphasises that “times change”. Women aren’t just there to be chosen by men. Class divides aren’t permanent. As the king suggests, a revolution is coming. Roles are less tied to specific genders. Children may be a product of their parents, but they also have the freewill to choose to blossom and break free from unhealthy patterns of behaviour.

Musically strong, Charles Way’s story is fresh for adults, mostly familiar for children, and full of astonishing effects that make The MAC and Cahoots’ Cinderella a top notch Christmas show. Performances continue until Sunday 8 January.

Photo credit: Melissa Gordon

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