Matthew Bourne's Cinderella, Birmingham Hippodrome - review and pictures
It's Cinderella - but not as we know it.
And that's because this is a Matthew Bourne production. He's the cutting-edge choreographer who brings a unique approach to a classic story.
Here he takes the famous fairytale of Cinderella and relocates it to the horrors of Blitz-ravaged London.
The traditional Fairy Godmother is replaced by a sleek white satin-suited male Angel and Cinders ugly step-sisters are joined by ugly step-brothers.
The production opens with a Pathe newsreel, offering advice during war time before revealing the blacked-out house of Cinders and her step-family in a gloomy shades of grey setting.
The darkly atmospheric scene is set, accompanied by Prokofiev's magnificent score.
Cinderella is a slave to her step family - and there's lots of them in this production. Madelaine Brennan is fantastic as Sybil, the drama queen step-mother, who brings equal measure of wickedness and glamour to the role - with a touch of Cruella de Vil.
The prince is Harry, an injured and traumatised RAF pilot, a role played impressively by Andrew Monaghan. He stumbles into Cinderella's life, but is lost again amid the chaos of an air raid. Cinders, played by Ashley Shaw, dreams of meeting him again and dancing with him - in an enchanting scene which sees her dance with her pilot in mannequin form.
And of course Cinders does go to the ball - courtesy of the Angel, played perfectly by Liam Mower, who chauffeurs her to the venue on a motorbike. In this wartime world, the ball is based at London's Cafe de Paris, which was famously bombed in 1941. The devastated venue is transformed into the ball in a clever reverse-time sequence.
The glitzy Cafe de Paris scenes are a sharp contrast to the gloomy grey world of Cinderella's home and the rest of war-torn London. In fact, all the sets - from the house and ball scenes to the London Underground and the finale at Paddington Station - are stunning. Praise must go to set and costume designer Lez Brotherston who takes the audience effortlessly from each atmospheric scene to the next.
Ashley Shaw is a wonderful Cinderella, undergoing a character transformation from the reserved and bespectacled Cinders in the opening act to the elegant and leading lady of the ball in the second act.
And, amid the doom and gloom of wartime, Cinderella does get her happy ending.
Hats off to Matthew Bourne. This touching wartime romance is a ballroom blitz.
*Cinderella runs at Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday.