Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan, five stars

Sirens shrill out. The London Blitz is loudly exploding. And the opening notes of Prokofiev’s Cinderella (composed between 1940 and 1944) have rarely sounded more haunted, or yearningly wistful. It’s against this backdrop of skies randomly raining down death that Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella finds love – but with no guarantees that she and her pilot, Harry, will live happily ever after.

Bourne has fine-tuned his 1997 version of the familiar fairy-tale but the concept hasn’t altered: namely the healing power of love in the darkest of uncertain times. Ashley Shaw’s dutifully-drudging Cinders – now hassled by three oddball step-brothers alongside two seriously vain step-sisters and a total lush of a step-mother – takes refuge in romantic dreams of a dashing RAF pilot (Andrew Monaghan). In reality, he’s suffering from traumatic stress. Luckily – and this is where Bourne’s affection for old movies wittily informs the action – an Angel appears and brings these two wounded souls together.

Liam Mower’s white-suited Angel is a gloriously balletic force of divine intervention, a gleaming-luminous figure in designer Lez Brotherston’s appropriately grey-scale vistas where fiery red only erupts during cataclysmic air-raids.

Bourne’s Londoners, however, still face the music and dance: cunningly choreographed jivings, lindy-hoppings and similar 40’s styles are deliciously in step with Prokofiev’s music while – in the heady swing and sway at the Cafe de Paris – there are echoes of Fred and Ginger (themselves recalling Vernon and Irene Castle) in the waltz that brings Cinders into the arms of her pilot. If Shaw and Monaghan make the footwork light and fantastic, they also deliver visceral despair and longing when war-time circumstances separate them – it’s this shadow of historical reality, ever-present in Bourne’s vividly-detailed narrative, that so movingly frames their re-union with wartime partings that wouldn’t always have this fairy-tale ending. A prospect compellingly evoked by this truly outstanding company.