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Review: Matthew Bourne's Cinderella at Liverpool Empire ****

Matthew Bourne’s work has always been inspired by the silver screen – not least The Red Shoes, which he brought to the Empire 12 months ago.

Now he returns with a reprise of his atmospheric, dark fairytale version of Cinderella, bathed in silvery hues and paying nodding homage to those great romantic wartime movies, from Brief Encounter to the superlative David Niven Technicolor fantasy A Matter of Life and Death.

Prokofiev penned his score for Cinderella during the Second World War, and Bourne takes his audience in to the midst of war-torn, Luftwaffe-bombarded London – a city living somewhere between the nightmarish stygian gloom of the blackout and the saturated red skies of the Blitz. Mordor on Thames.

There’s an air of desperation, of living for the day, the hour, the minute, whether it be in the brittle brightness of the revellers in the doomed Café de Paris, drunkenly dancing as if they know there is no tomorrow, or the fumbled and mercenary encounters in the shadowy corners of a shadowy city.

Ashley Shaw and Liam Mower in Cinderella. Photos by Johan Persson

In to all this dances Ashley Shaw’s bespectacled naif, taunted by her terrible step-siblings and Cruella de Vil stepmother, and who plunges in to the stormy Blitz-filled night where she is transformed in to a screen goddess by her guardian angel (Liam Mower), finding dreamy solace in the arms of Dominic North’s dashing RAF pilot Harry.

Shaw is graceful and lithe, and the pair’s pas de deux in act 2 is a sinuous delight, although elsewhere the frenetic, febrile atmosphere and action can feel exhausting.

As with all of Matthew Bourne’s work, there’s devilment in the detail, with plenty of wry and witty vignettes to spot at the fringes of the main action.

Liverpool’s Lez Brotherston won an Olivier for his original set and costumes, and his redesign is evocative, inventive and clever – not least the projection of a giant ticking clock face which counts down the minutes until the midnight witching hour.

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