Bolton Octagon have taken this classic fairy tale and they’ve turned it on its head. They’ve abandoned the traditional narrative and have invited us to see things from the rat’s perspective. Living with Cinderella in the kitchen, scuttling round the house out of sight and witnessing the full cruelty of her step family, who’s better informed to tell us Cinders’ story?
The cast deliver a superb performance of the production. They work with each other intuitively to create a magical world that instantly captures the audience. From the moment that the characters arrive on stage, we are transported with them to Cinderella’s kitchen and become invested in the narrative. Throughout the performance, the actors continuously break the fourth wall and encourage audience participation and interaction. The characters talk directly to us, ask us questions and we are even invited to attend the ball. This assists in developing the magic of the story and it’s a brilliant way to introduce young children to the wonders of theatre.
The set and staging appear to be quite simplistic, but each set change and movement is executed with such precision that the complexity and intricate timing of the changes escapes the notice of the audience. These seamless transitions are mirrored in the way that the actors alternate between characters. With a total of six actors and fourteen characters to play, the rats regularly transform to portray the humans they are narrating. The simple addition of a hat, a dress or a silly wig perfectly depicts the new characters and leaves the audience with no doubt as to who they are. The theatre’s costume department are to be commended on their bold and inventive designs. Their colourful choices lift the play and provide a humorous edge to the production.
Live music is created before our eyes on stage. Not only do the characters sing and dance, but they each play multiple instruments and work in unison to develop a fantastic and memorable soundtrack for ‘Cinderella’. The actors travel across the stage rotating between instruments and each taking ownership of delivering a magical musical score. The whole production is fast-paced and energetic and there isn’t a moment in which the audience would be permitted to drift off. It is constantly engaging, full of life and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
This thoroughly Northern interpretation of ‘Cinderella’ warms the heart as it challenges the conventions of the fairy tale. The Octagon have resisted conforming to the stereotype, casting a brunette Cinderella that isn’t desperate to impress a Prince. Looking at the story through the eyes of a rat revitalises the tale that we all know inside and out. Combined with the wonderful physicality of the production and the countless giggles, this fresh perspective makes Bolton Octagon’s ‘Cinderella’ a must see of the Winter season.
Image credit: Richard Davenport