Disney gave me unreal expectations of love. It also fed me a pared down Cinderella, something the Little Angel Theatre’s version of this Brothers Grimm classic put straight , with Cinderella attending not one, but three balls, and doing it all minus a Fairy Godmother.
Despite a deeply entrenched feminist critique of fairytales and a Czech friend at my side eager to cast aspersions-the Czech Republic being a veritable cradle of puppetry- this production succeeded in melting our cynical hearts. And it did it again and again.
The Little Angel Theatre is truly a tonic for the soul and the magic lies in the sheer variety of puppets which come alive under the deft direction of Steve Tiplady. This production employed the full gamut from table top puppets to marionettes, to shadow and rod puppets, with their manipulators providing the voices for these living dolls.
Cinderella is a slip of a girl, who loses her mother only for her father to meet and quickly marry a spiteful carbuncle of a woman with two beastly parasitic daughters, who do everything within their power to torment their half-sister. She is a drab, lank puppet, with sunken eyes, gaunt features, and perilously thin limbs, a total contrast to her vile step mother and shrieking, grotesque sisters, all squabbling in pidgin French.
Despite being a children’s production there is a melancholy streak which flows through the show and Hannah Marshall’s score does much to reveal the extent of Cinders desperate unhappiness. The most distressing moment comes after her step-mother hacks down the tree that Cinderella has nurtured from a sapling. The stage is suddenly filled shards of kindling, and looks like a mirror that has been shattered into a thousand pieces. The psychological impact of this barbarism is conveyed by shadow puppets, in a trippy and unsettling scene where Cinderella crafts a dress out of the remains, and looses herself in the giddiness of the ball, and the cavalcade of guests and dancers.
There is of course a hugely playful, irreverent side to this show and much of the slapstick and farce comes from the two ugly sisters, mini Marie Antoinettes, who coo over themselves, and are fawned over by the sycophantic dressmaker. There is also something truly touching when the frail Cinderella meets the effete Prince Charming, and he first pulls her to him to dance. The ensuing quest to find the owner of the glass slipper is also delightful, with a teeny tiny puppet show being paraded through the audience.
my one criticism of the piece is only being included as it was the child in front of me that voiced it first- Mummy, why are they speaking in French? This was indeed a perplexing effect, when the Grimm’s were German and not known Francophiles.
In a season awash with dodgy Pantomimes, replete with cross-dressing z-list celebs and bawdy double-entendres discerning parents- and big kids- know that they can always count on the Little Angel to restore the magic of Christmas.