CINDERELLA? You know, the one set on a boat with a bunch of retired magicians living on the top deck. They're a bit like the old folk in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; cute, mischievous and wise. Young Cinderella, who does all the work in their floating retirement home, is forever being teased by them.
Ring any bells? Me neither. But that's the setting for Phil Porter's unorthodox version of the fairytale, first seen at London's Unicorn. It's one that tries to sharpen up the familiar archetypes with a dash of psychological realism.
Kirsty Mackay's big-hearted Cinderella, who with real-life conjurers on board has no need of a fairy godmother, is less constrained by her stepsisters than by her desire to do her late mother proud. Meanwhile, Kevin Lennon's charming Prince Daniel, who is really an orphan from the Butterfly Republic, is searching for a girl who'll just be honest with him.
It's intriguing stuff but, in diverging from the formula, Porter loses some of the tale's elemental force. The extra detail distracts us from the urgency of the plot.
At the same time, the play gets stuck between the narrative richness of a Christmas show and the broad brushstrokes of panto, and ends up as not quite either. The ugly sisters, for example, look set to provide some knockabout comedy, but that's not possible after Natalie Wallace's Tixylix attributes her ill-treatment of Cinderella to her own experience of being bullied. This is psychologically credible, but narratively disruptive.
Neil Warmington's two-tier revolving set asks a lot of the actors, who have too little time to change costumes. But James Brining's production is full of vigour, and, at the end, it comes ashore with a romantic union that is touching, deserved and no longer all at sea.
© Mark Fisher, 2011 (pic: Douglas McBride)
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