Theatre: Blitz spirit fails to lift wartime Cinderella

Andrew Monaghan and Ashley Shaw in Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella (Johan Persson)

Cinderella has been a popular pantomime since 1830. Today, you can see it performed as a ballet by Prokofiev, an opera by Rossini, a musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein, a film by Kenneth Branagh, or even a Disney cartoon.

A lot of people will be opting for the ballet and spectacle of Matthew Bourne (he of the male-led Swan Lake), designed by Lez Brotherston, at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. It is set during the height of the London Blitz in 1940. It’s a great pity that the pre-recorded Prokofiev has been deliberately over-amplified to create a cinematic surround sound. I felt like Gulliver did when he was listening to an orchestra in Brobdingnag.

Bourne loves movies and there are references to A Matter of Life and Death, Waterloo Road and Brief Encounter. The wicked stepmother is modelled on Joan Crawford. She is so wicked that she tries to smother Cinders.

Bourne stretches a two-act ballet to three acts. There’s too much meaningless dancing for dancing’s sake in the Café de Paris. Ashley Shaw and Andrew Monaghan’s high spot is when Cinderella dances with a tailor’s dummy, which is transformed into her Prince.

Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra are two quite separate plays. But if you see them as a double bill at a matinée and evening performance at the Barbican, as part of the RSC’s Roman Season, it is even more of a shock to see what has happened to Mark Antony. The triple pillar of the world has been transformed into a strumpet’s fool, so infatuated that he neglects duty and honour. In Julius Caesar, Antony is a charismatic, athletic young man who is a brilliant orator. In Antony and Cleopatra, by contrast, Antony is an old ruffian. He has aged so much that the role has to be played by another actor.

The most famous lovers in history, insanely jealous of each other and long past their sell-by dates, bungle everything. Antony even bungles his own death, and then lives long enough to learn that Cleopatra is not dead but merely wished to find out what he would do if he heard she were.

Titus Andronicus, the least performed of all Shakespeare’s plays and dismissed by Ben Jonson as “blood and thunder”, was extremely popular in its day. The action, based on Seneca and Ovid, has no historical foundation and is an unremitting cycle of sensational and grotesque atrocities. The pièce de resistance is the dinner party at which Titus (dressed as a chef) serves up the flesh of two young men, rapists of his daughter, in a pie he has baked for their mother. The bloodbath dinner party is so over the top that all an audience can do is laugh in self-defence. The extra­ordinary thing, however, is that alongside all the sick-making barbarity there should be so much fine poetry.

In Amy Herzog’s so-so Belleville at Donmar, James Norton and Imogen Potts play an American couple who are living in an apartment in a bohemian Paris suburb and wishing they had never married. There are various options such as eviction, separation, divorce, go home to daddy, commit suicide or murder. The audience gets worried when she starts cutting her toenails with a large kitchen knife.