Much like a classic sports car, writes Cary Gee, there is a limit to how much tinkering a classic fairy tale can undertake before it ceases to purr, and begins to clank.
While George Stiles and Anthony Drewe’s original gay retelling of Cinderella, sprinkled a welcome dose of sparkle and stardust over a much loved fantasy, Will Keith’s revival seems only to highlight the increasing commodification of Soho, as though the entire village has been through a rinse-cycle in the laundrette run by Robbie (our Cinderella) and his platonic girlfriend Velcro.
There is too much emphasis on clever plotting: part time escort Robbie falls for his handsome, betrothed prince, mayoral candidate James Prince (I’m guessing he’s a Tory though this is never specified) but remains beholden to sugar daddy and political donor Lord Bellingham, without whose financial assistance Robbie would be at the mercy of his ugly step sisters who are trying to evict him from his laundrette.
However, there’s not enough of the transcendent magic that make us, the audience, still wish for a happy ending. Fortunately, we are kept on track by an off-stage narrator.
Thank God for the ugly sisters. Clodagh (Michela Stern) and Dana (Natalie Harman) are a riot of ill-fitting leopard skin and strangled vowels, though it’s hard to believe that anyone who works in the sex industry in Soho (as pole dancers) could be so homophobic. Nonetheless their raucous, good-natured duet I’m So Over Men is the undoubted highlight of Act 1. I just wish they had been cast as property developers, the real enemy in Soho’s square mile.
Tori Hargreaves turns in a quietly heart-breaking performance as Marilyn Platt, the dignified fiancé of the philandering prince, but the still-beating heart of Soho Cinders belongs to Millie O’Connell as Robbie’s sidekick and laundry assistant Velcro who deserves to find a handsome (and single) prince of her own.
As Robbie, Luke Bayer’s lack of agency is frequently maddening. If this were a panto I would have shouted from the stalls “Get a job!”. Instead he goes to the “ball”, which at least provides him with the opportunity to wow us with the show’s standout torch song, They Don’t Make Glass Slippers.
Soho Cinders is filled with excellent performances (particularly from the female cast members), some great tunes, improved choreography and an undeniable wit, but as a fable for our times it remains as convincing as a fake Christmas tree.
Soho Cinders is at the Charing Cross Theatre, London until 21 December
Go to http://www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk