The production opens with a little magic. A snap of the actor’s fingers and the lights go down; a spotlight settles on him. A wave of his wand, and up rises the curtain, revealing a spectacular set. This retelling of Cinderella takes place not in a fairy-tale manor house, but aboard a ship. On the bottom level, a kitchen and bedroom complete with portholes and plank flooring. Above, a sloping room with three chairs set out amongst jumbled furniture. The Floating Cassandra, named for the heroine’s deceased mother, is no ordinary boat. It’s a retirement home for elderly magicians.
So far, so strange. But for a modern interpretation of a classic story this was a lot of fun. It certainly wasn’t just the children who were mesmerised by the old magicians’ tricks. Our Cinderella spends her days caring for these ageing performers under the supervision of her rather scatter-brained father, wearing wellies and overalls and dreaming of ‘just one night’ in which to feel pretty and graceful. In an attempt to overcome his loneliness Cinderella’s father invites Mrs Sheila Yarg to live with him aboard The Floating Cassandra, bringing along her two daughters: clueless Tixylix and orange-faced Monopoly. While Robert Paterson’s bumbling father figure believes Cinderella will be glad of the company, the girls are two-faced and nothing but trouble – as would be expected of two ugly stepsisters.
At the same time a revolving stage allows us into the royal palace, where an insignificant-feeling queen is trying to convince her adopted son to marry and generate some good press. When he begrudgingly agrees, an X Factor-style competition ensues, which generated a lot of laughs from the audience. But when this fails, a more traditional ball takes place: the Butterfly Ball, inspired by the ‘Butterfly Republic’ where the Prince grew up. Against difficult odds and with the help of a little retired-magician fairy dust, Cinderella does go to the ball – albeit carried there by a seagull named Gavin, whose appearances are brief and largely cringe-worthy, though loved by the children in the audience.
The usual trials and tribulations follow the Prince and Cinderella’s inevitable bonding, but this time it is Cinderella’s sense of duty to her father that forces her to lie about her lost shoe, claiming it doesn’t fit; and of course, it is with her father’s help in the end that she crashes the Prince’s wedding – literally crashes a boat into the ‘royal beach’ – and tells him her true feelings. Despite a lot of jokes in the script that didn’t really hit the mark, the scenes between Cinderella and the Prince were a little touching, in particular when he appeared aboard The Floating Cassandra in a scuba suit to declare his feelings for her.
However, if it’s a good old-fashioned pantomime you’re hoping for, you’re likely to be disappointed. The male lead in the play was, lamentably, played by a male actor (though very well) and if there was a pantomime dame then she appeared for less than a minute on stage. There were some fun songs but the audience was never encouraged to participate – no ‘he’s behind you!’ moments and only one instance of booing and hissing. In hindsight, the play doesn’t claim to be a panto, but as a fairy tale retelling at Christmas, aimed at kids, it seemed slightly misleading. So, despite being a fun production, Cinderella felt like it had somewhat missed the mark this Christmas.
Image credit – Douglas McBride, courtesy of Dundee Rep