Putting the Blitz spirit into Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella
- Credit: Hugo Glendinning
Dominic North is taking on the lead role of Harry the pilot and being dance captain in a revival of Matthew Bourne's Cinderella set amid the London Blitz of the Second World War setting. As it arrives in the region, he tells us more.
Matthew Bourne has a reputation for his unique interpretations of classic stories but none has more poignancy than his take on Cinderella.
His take on the classic fairy tale has, at its heart, a true war-time romance set in London during the Second World War. Amid the air raid sirens and blackouts, a chance meeting results in a magical night for Cinderella and her dashing young RAF pilot, together just long enough to fall in love before being parted by the horrors of the Blitz.
Following the sold-out and critical success of The Red Shoes and Sleeping Beauty, his New Adventures company return to Norwich Theatre Royal next week with a revival of what is one of their most popular and beloved productions.
Setting the fairytale romance in the London blitz and underpinning its magic with the threat of wartime isn't as far fetched as it first appears. During the four years in which Sergei Prokofiev was writing the music for Cinderella, half of Europe fell to Nazi occupation and Britain suffered bombing raids.
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Part of Bourne's production takes place in the ballroom at the Café de Paris – the famously glittering refuge of Mayfair socialites that was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in 1941.
This revived production features Lez Brotherston's sumptuous costumes and sets, which won an Olivier Award for his original designs, and Prokofiev's score performed in Surround Sound, featuring a specially commissioned recording played by a 60 piece orchestra.
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Dancing the role of Harry the pilot will be Dominic North, who grew up as a rugby and football loving lad in West Yorkshire until his interest in dance was piqued when his twin sister went to dance classes. He moved to London to attend the Central School of Ballet and was subsequently snapped up by New Adventures. He has since appeared in numerous productions including Matthew Bourne's acclaimed male-dominated version of Swan Lake.
You are playing the part of the dashing young RAF pilot in this latest production. But you were in a previous version too?
I did it seven or eight years ago between Swan Lake and Lord of the Flies. I did it as injury cover and as one of the ensemble men, one of the heroes. So getting the chance to come back to it and do the main part of the pilot I was very keen to do it. This is a role that is created by one of my idols Adam Cooper who was one of the original swans in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, so I was very happy to get this chance.
How does this revival differ from previous productions?
It's not massively different but it changes every time it is done. From 20 years ago, then it was re-done a few years ago and now, there are always bits that change because people bring their own stuff to it. Everyone has their own thoughts and ideas. Often you can't even remember how it changes; it is only when you look back at a copy of an older productions or if someone reminds you that you go 'oh yeah, it's different'. But the story is the same, there have been no changes there, because it works and people enjoy the way the story is told.
Do different dancers bring something different?
Definitely. The different cast members all have our own unique styles. Even when different people step in to take on the roles, or the matinee shows, you can see the story is told different even though its the same story. The way people look and the way they approach it can be very different. That's part of why people enjoy it I think. It means that it is always fresh and it has the individuals personalities.
What is it about this production of Cinderella that touches people?
I think it's the nostalgia of the piece, that wartime setting. The way people acted and dressed in that period, the chivalry and how people behaved. Also what people had to live through in that period. The production is set in the Café de Paris which was bombed, a bomb fell down a ventilation shaft. People were out enjoying themselves, that is what they were encouraged to do, when it happened. It is about these types of stories and what people lived through. My grandparents — so not that long ago — lived through this crazy time. People also like nice fairytales too, of course. Prince Charming as a pilot and Cinderella has that magic. People love those stories and to be taken away. It's escapism.
Why do you think the fairytale story of Cinderella works so well amid a depiction of these real events?
It adds to the drama. And they are relatable characters as well. You feel for them and what they go through. It still has the fairytale magic but the setting gives it an extra poignancy. It really could be their last time together. It heightens the emotions of what they go through.
Matthew Bourne's productions tend to have a story narrative rather than abstract dance pieces. Is that something that appeals to you specifically?
Absolutely. I love pure dance but his shows are about entertainment and that usually comes from them being story based. That is what works for him and it is what I enjoy too because you get to act as well as dance. You get to play nice interesting characters, sometimes not so nice characters, and get to go with them through a range of emotions. We try to be believable and for the story to have a truth to it. Physicalising the story is the main thing. Use your bodies and faces as opposed to words, but though it's not a play it still has that feeling. When we first approach a work and discuss what the characters are saying to each other in a scene, we will have the words, but then we will slowly take the words out but keep the mannerisms that you have used.
Like most of his productions it is called Matthew Bourne's Cinderella. Is it more collaborative than that billing suggests?
Yes of course, perhaps more than people think. Whether it is the artistic team, like the associate choreographer Etta Murfitt, who is heavily involved in the movement, and Lez Brotherstoni, the designer, they are massively involved in the creation. They start everything from the beginning together. But it is all Matt's vision and his mind is the genius of all the shows. But he is very good at getting people around him who will produce what he wants and getting the best out of them. He likes you to be one big family doing his shows. That is always what it feels like and I think that's why people enjoy working on his shows. He is not a hard dictator director. He is a nice guy, very modest and easy to work with.
Cinderella is the latest production to be filmed to also be shown in cinemas. Does that differ for the dancers?
Yes and no. It's a tricky one. You try as much as possible to do what you normally do, and luckily they always do two shoots in case anything goes massively wrong. It adds an extra element and you try not to get nervous about it. It is great to do and it's nice to have the productions seen by many more people. It is also nice to have the memories captured as something that is a proper legacy.
• Matthew Bourne's Cinderella is at Norwich Theatre Royal from February 27-March 3, 7.30pm, 2.30pm March 1/3, £42.50-£8, 01603 630000, theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk