Recently I went to see Matthew Bourne’s current touring show, Cinderella, at the Lowry in Salford. I am no dance critic, so if you want to read a proper review from someone who actually knows what they’re talking about I’d suggest the one from Judith Mackrell in the Guardian. I can only add that she is correct when she says that Liam Mower is truly superb as the Angel.
The thought I wanted to capture here is my initial confusion about the setting. I couldn’t understand why Matthew Bourne had relocated the story to wartime London during the Blitz, other than to create a sense of difference for the audience in an effort to make it clear that this is a modern retelling and not the traditional fairytale.
But then near the end it all began to make sense. After Cinderella and Harry have finally found each other in hospital and headed off to get married, there is a scene set at Paddington railway station. We are shown a busy station platform with couples waiting to part and others on their own waiting for someone to arrive. There is a prominent clock in the rafters set to shortly after 12:00. A railway carriage arrives at the back of the set, some couples meet, one person is left prominently on the platform sadly waiting for someone who hasn’t arrived.
This is where the connection between Cinderella and the wartime setting became clear. Stories from the war, especially on screen, are full of meetings and partings. Couples waving a tearful goodbye at the train station, individuals waiting for the return that may never come. All governed by train timetable, by the station clock. This context is perfect for a re-telling of Cinderella, where the story revolves around a meeting, a parting dictated by a timetable, followed by an anxious rediscovery. The background of wartime Britain fits the Cinderella fairytale like a glove.