There have been many interpretations of the fairy tale of Cinderella: from Disney animation to dramatic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, from panto to porn. It is a rags to riches tale which retains a certain timelessness.
Soho Cinders, by Anthony Stiles and George Drewe, boasts a remarkable score which has sharply observed comedy and moments of extreme pathos in this edgy Cinderella of politics, money, the press and the requisite musical happy ending.
Robbie (Luke Bayer) has lost his mother and is thrown unceremoniously into the street by his dreadful stepsisters (Michaela Stern and Natalie Harman), who claim ownership of both his flat and business – a launderette he runs with best friend and “Soho hag”, Velcro (Millie O’Connell). We’re in Old Compton Street, where there’s still a strip club, but places “that used to be no-go are now mixed”.
Needing both money and affection he responds to attention from a wealthy businessman (Chris Coleman) and a conflicted Mayoral candidate (Lewis Asquith), playing the former for company and falling in love with the latter. By the end of act one, when plotlines have led him, in a Prada suit, to a society function, Robbie is about to blow everyone’s world apart.
The Charing Cross traverse stage now seems to be a permanent feature, and works well for the big ensemble numbers and even quiet solo pieces. The balcony is used sparingly, and aside from a couple of questionable blocking decisions which affect sightlines, the stage is well utilised throughout with a simple but functional set by Justin Williams.
I have a reservation or two around the depiction of bisexuality, which seems rather simplistic, but the transposition of traditional Cinderella characters and tropes is cleverly subverted, with the closeted Lord something of a twisted Fairy Godmother, the ugly sisters wanting their “fifteen minutes of fame … like Gemma Collins”, and the politician standing for the Prince (right down to his name).
Bayer proves a superb Cinders, balancing an “out” cockyness with tender vulnerability, and his solo number “They Don’t Make Glass Slippers” was one of the vocal and emotional highlights of the piece. His easy chemistry with Asquith makes their hidden romance as “intimate strangers” believable, and he’s fun in scenes with O’Connell.
As the spurned fiancee of Prince, Tori Hargreaves constantly impresses, and her duet with O’Connell, “Let Him Go”, gives both characters a solid background and purpose. Hargreaves proves to be the good fairy who brings a sprinkle of happiness to all around her in true storytime style.
The narration, which sets up and describes each scene, works both for and against Soho Cinders: for when it supports the fairy tale conventions of “once upon a time”, but against when it either slows the action with interruptions or feels like a conceit for a work in progress. Ultimately I found it a distraction.
Soho Cinders is a satiric swipe at media speak, the fickleness of fame, and the truth of romance: songs like “It’s Hard To Tell” feel well-observed in this age of gender queerness, and “Spin” gives an insight into carefully-crafted media deception. However, it is the songs which slot into traditional musical style which get the audience humming along. “Who’s That Boy” and “You Shall Go To The Ball” are especially effective.
The musical may hsve tired slightly from its quick debut in 2011, but it is well-performed and directed (by Will Keith). The lighting by Jack Weir, with blue and pink walls of colour, is both pretty and clever, and adds to the vibrancy of its Soho setting.
Soho Cinders is a welcome addition to the London theatre scene and continues at the Charing Cross Theatre until 21 December 2019. Book at https://charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/theatre/soho-cinders.
Photo credits Pamela Raith.