Theatre review - Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet; The Lowry Salford

The happy couple prepare to walk off into the sunset. Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet

The happy couple prepare to walk off into the sunset. Cinderella, Birmingham Royal Ballet - Credit: Archant

Kate Houghton is charmed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s performance of Cinderella, much to her own surprise.

Prince Charming and Cinderella Birmingham Royal Ballet

Prince Charming and Cinderella Birmingham Royal Ballet - Credit: Archant

The last time I saw Cinderella it was a full-on slapstick pantomime, packed with visual and physical humour. The last time I saw a ballet I was nine years old and it was Swan Lake; I was left totally bewildered, a sensation that has informed my decision not to attend ballet performances ever since.

I went along to last night’s performance at The Lowry, Salford, to treat a friend of mine who is a big ballet fan. And I am so glad I did; it was a revelation.

I was expecting men in tights (with associated buns of steel) pretty, slender girls in sticky-out tutus bobbing around the stage on their toes, lots of emotion, high drama and more than a few moments of confusion. I got all of that, but also so much more.

The confusion comes from the fact that ballet is, of course, storytelling without words. Luckily the story being told last night is one we all know very well, although on occasion it veered from this girl’s understanding – I have no idea why four delightful dancers representing the seasons performed solo dances while Cinderella and her Fairy Godmother watched from in front of a huge, mirror.

I am also puzzled as to why there were simply so many dances. With three acts and two 20-minute intervals, it does rather go on. I don’t think we need quite so many corps de ballet set pieces and really, once the Prince and Cinderella have danced once I don’t think we need see them dance again, and again, and again, before the story can move on.

What I hadn’t expected was the humour and the power of the acting, though face and body alone, to move the audience’s emotions along with the tale. The story, of course, has two Ugly Sisters, the niggling, bullying bane of our heroine’s life. Played by Samara Downs, in the role of Skinny, and Laura Purkiss, in the role of Dumpy, their every appearance led to laughter. The skill required to perform the intricate positioning and movement of ballet at this level with unexpected clumsiness and inelegance is dazzling.

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Cinderella, played by Jenna Roberts, was every girl’s dream of what a ballerina should be. Delicate, graceful and precise in every movement, her arrival at the Ball, in a silver sparkling tutu backlit in a mist of smoke, is positively celestial. Her various pas de deux with William Bracewell as The Prince were dreamy, joyful, romantic and always breathtaking – although I could have accepted fewer of them, I confess. Perhaps I am not losing myself in the moment as I should, but I can’t help marvel, every time, at the power and control both dancers must use to complete every turn, never mind the dramatic lifts, pushing our heroine skyward to the stars and raising applause from the bewitched audience.

Until 4 March, The Lowry, Salford