REVIEW: Cinderella at The Dukes

A scene from Cinderella. Photo by Darren Andrews.
A scene from Cinderella. Photo by Darren Andrews.

The Dukes Playhouse has nailed it once again with this year’s Christmas show, putting its own unique stamp on a classic story.

This time, Cinderella gets the Joe Sumsion treatment, as the director turns his attention to bringing the 17th century folk tale’s themes of oppression into the 21st century; using Ian Kershaw’s adaptation wich gives it a modern twist and injects humour and flair into what can often be a stuffy and overdone story.

The show is performed in The Round, allowing for a fully immersive experience in which the audience is never quite sure how or where the action will unfold next.

It starts in a present day living room, where two young sisters are musing over their Christmas presents.

Their grandad begins the story of Cinderella, and we are whisked away onto “Ella” and her father’s farm, where hard graft and honesty is the norm.

Enter Ella’s new stepmother and her daughters, who represent a breed of human displaying the charming traits of selfishness, ignorance, greed and stupidity, which are a far cry from Ella’s northern sensibilities.

The ugly sisters are, for want of a better word, hilarious, and their clothes, mannerisms and language can be found on any number of TV reality series’ that are so popular these days.

And so begins the struggle between Ella, played by Rachel Garnett, and her new family, with Ella being gradually beaten down while her father is sent away to “that London” to sell what little produce he has in exchange for a new hat for his wife, and large jewels for his new daughters.

Meanwhile, the palace is ever on the horizon, and Ella begins a relationship with a mystery young lad who is not all that he seems.

As the story climaxes, the themes are drawn together, and, like Scrooge last year, Christmas meanings are revealed again.

Music - both recorded and live - abounds, and there are original pieces played out with guitar, violin, trumpet, ukelele, and washboard, bringing a warm sound to the show, and some first class dancing - and singing - from the ugly sisters.

I repeat, the dancing is excellent. For me, Dukes newcomer Josie Cerise, who plays ugly sister Grisela, steals the show in so many ways, in particular on the dancing front, but all the performances are faultless and you can tell the cast are enjoying themselves.

Puppetry plays a strong part in the story as well, Ella’s dog for example has some great dog like qualities.

The children in the audience, including my two, had a whale of a time, laughing and clapping in all the right places.

Funnily enough though, the conversation on the way home was all about toes. You’ll see why if you go and see it.

It wasn’t all fun and games.

The powerful theme of true love and loss are dealt with extremely well, a scene of note is with Andrew Vincent, who plays father, grandad and the King, as he remembers his wife by the tree planted for her when she died.

This was an intelligent translation of the Cinderalla story, remaining true to its ideas while unpicking and re-packaging it in classic Dukes style.

Engaging for both children and adults on different levels, like perhaps an episode of The Simpsons, it has all the hallmarks of a great family experience.

The Dukes team are honing an in-house Christmas offering that is completely unique and special, and are a huge credit to the city’s cultural offering.

Cinderella runs at The Dukes in Moor Lane, Lancaster, until January 10. For tickets, visit www.dukes-lancaster.org, or call 01524 598500.

By Nick Lakin.