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‘Cinderella: The Awesome Truth!’ review

Theatre, Children's Polka Theatre , Wimbledon Friday December 10 2021 - Sunday January 30 2022
3 out of 5 stars
Cinderella: The Awesome Truth, Polka Theatre, 2021
Photo by Tasha Best

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Wholesome and inventive kids’ spin on the rags to riches fairytale

Midway between a panto, a musical and a morality lecture, Polka Theatre’s Christmas show ‘Cinderella: The Awesome Truth’ is a kinder, gentler alternative to a full-on panto, aimed at children aged five-plus.

It’s a remix of the traditional Cinderella story, based on the premise that the version of the fairytale we all know has been lost in translation: there was no Cinderella or Ugly Sisters, but stepsisters Cindy and Ella, who have a bit of a struggle adjusting to their new blended family arrangements, but certainly there’s no evil scheming or enforced servitude. 

In essence, it’s ‘Cinderella’ brought down to earth, with its twin heroines facing rather more relatable problems than the Cinders of tradition. Well, that’s accepting that the antagonists here are a quartet of floating puppet monsters that seduce Cindy with the promise of a makeover while scheming to eat her heart out (as far as I can tell, literally). But they’re an allegory for social media, so it’s still #relatable.

A bit shoestring but very endearing

Writer-director Sarah Punshon’s production is a bit shoestring but very endearing, with an extremely hardworking cast of four tackling all the roles, including the puppetry, while also singing composer Felix Hagan’s crunchy, peppy tunes. It follows Jade Lauren’s Cindy and Tiajna Amayo’s Ella as they strike up tentative friendships with James Keningale’s nerdy Prince Charming and his down-to-earth best mate Dandini (LJ Parkinson). Each performer feels thoroughly invested in their vividly-drawn character: each character is a portrait of a nice person with deep insecurities, who must overcome them on their way to mending their relationships with the others. Also there’s a big puppet squirrel who gives them a prod in the right direction every now and again.

It’s a joyful but very improving show. Some of this is great: I’m very much in favour of its digressions about body positivity, fat-shaming and the presence of a correctly-pronouned non-binary character (Parkinson’s Dandini). But speaking as a horrible jaded adult, I did find it grating that virtually every line in the show was freighted with some sort of higher moral purpose, especially with the whole ‘don’t live your life via the internet, kids’ thread that runs through it. Sure, writer Punshon has a point. But there's no real acknowledgement of the fact the internet is actually quite a good thing; there's a streak of tutting conservatism to this otherwise very tolerant show. 

It’s worth saying that my children didn’t feel attacked by this in the slightest: they thoroughly enjoyed themselves, then went home and stared at their favourite vlogger for an hour-and-a-half. Still, it could surely have had a bit more of that panto anarchy without compromising its moral clarity. But don’t let my spiritual decay put you off: as a story on stage, ‘Cinderella’ tends to be co-opted into adult-friendly versions, be it panto or the new Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical. This is a delightfully pure kids’ take on the tale: I guess Christmas theatre season is really upon us, and it’s no time for cynicism.

Details

Venue name: Polka Theatre
Venue website: www.polkatheatre.com
Venue phone: 020 8543 4888
Address: 240 The Broadway
London
SW19 1SB
Transport: Tube: South Wimbledon
Price: £10-£28.50. Runs 1hr 50min

Dates And Times

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