Call it an effect of the recession, but the rags-to-riches story of Cinderella has rarely been so popular in London, and not just in the realm of traditional panto. Over at BAC, we have 'Midnight's Pumpkin', Kneehigh's irrepressible take on the ancient story that crosses centuries and cultures. At Kingston's Rose Theatre, there's 'Cinderella The Midnight Princess'; and here, at the recently opened St James Theatre in Victoria, is this outstanding rendering of the tale, from Bristol's Tobacco Factory and the Travelling Light Theatre Company.
The production was a hit in Bristol last Christmas, and it's easy to see why. Like Kneehigh, with whom Travelling Light also share an aesthetic – blending live music with dance, physical theatre, puppetry and audience interaction – this is a 'Cinderella' rooted firmly in the Grimm version, not shying away from its seams of cruelty and violence.
But director Sally Cookson has also woven in elements from other 'Cinderella' stories around the world: so, like Germany's Aschenputtel, our spry, tomboyish Ella (Lisa Kerr), has birds to help her instead of a fairy godmother.
The show has energy, theatricality and charm in spades. The five cast members work hard, swapping easily between roles (Thomas Eccleshare particularly impresses as the geeky, birdwatching Prince); and the two musicians, Brian Hargreaves and Adam Pleeth, provide a toe-tapping folk-jazz soundtrack. It's a very healthy antidote to Disney's saccharine plundering of our ancient folk tales; and, most importantly, a real festive treat for all the family.