'Prokofiev's Cinderella feels more like a 1940s film score than a fairytale ballet'

'Prokofiev's Cinderella feels more like a 1940s film score than a fairytale ballet'

Simon Annand

Matthew Bourne talks about his war-torn take on the classic ballet

The quest to take something old and make it new keeps many a choreographer up at night. But for Matthew Bourne, it's the stuff of dreams. From Swan Lake to Carmen, Sleeping Beauty to The Nutcracker, he's built an entire career out of re-defining classical scores.

Originally created in 1997, then significantly re-worked in 2010, Cinderella is one of Bourne's earlier works, and a perfect example of his ability to think outside the box.

'I'd loved the music of Cinderella for a long time, but wanted to do something with a bit of a twist,' he recalls. 'So I started reading about it, and discovered that Prokofiev wrote the score during the Second World War. And when I listened to it again with those ears, suddenly the whole thing changed for me – it felt more like a 1940s film score than a fairytale ballet.'

And so Cinderella and her Prince Charming became two ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances during World War II. The mean family in the background is still very much in place, but the idea of a male hero sweeping in to rescue a damsel in distress obviously had to go.

'Cinderella sees a wounded RAF pilot when they're both caught up in an air raid,' explains Bourne. 'The ball scene is like a film fantasy in her head, because she's injured during the raid and the pilot is a heroic figure in her dream. But when they meet in reality in the final act, they're just ordinary people who fall in love, and they both rescue each other in a way.'

As with all Bourne's productions, laughter is never far away, but it pays to keep your tissues in close proximity, too. 'It's a very typical New Adventures show in that it blends a lot of humour and a lot of feeling,' he says. 'It's a very moving show.' No surprises there, given Bourne's eye for dancers who can convey a story, and his astute way of working that ensures each performer knows their character inside out.

But it's over 20 years since he first created Cinderella, has Bourne's approach in rehearsals altered much during that time?

'It's grown over the years,' he says, 'and working with theatre directors, when I've choreographed musical theatre shows, has given me a lot of ideas. As they say, there are no small characters, everyone has a story, and I've found that really helps with dancers, too. If they've got a complete character, and they know who that person is, it brings so much more to the piece.'

Not only that, but unlike most Cinderellas, Bourne's version has an identifiable moment in history at its heart.

'It's a show about real people in a real situation that actually happened,' he says. 'My parents were brought up during the Blitz, and both sets of my grandparents were in East London at that time; it's part of our history.

'So even though it has fantasy and magic and all the things you want from this show, it's rooted in something that people can relate to, and there are characters on stage that the audience can identify with, I think that makes it special as well.'

Matthew Bourne's Cinderella, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Tue 5–Sat 9 Jun; King's Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 12–Sat 16 Jun.

Matthew Bourne's Cinderella

Matthew Bourne re-imagines the classic tale of Cinderella. In the midst of WWII, Cinderella falls in love with a dashing RAF pilot, only to be separated by the chaos of the Blitz. Set to Prokofiev's original score.

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