SOHO CINDERS

Music by George Stiles
Lyrics by Anthony Drewe
Book by Anthony Drewe & Elliot Davies

 

 Charing Cross Theatre

 24 October - 21 December, 2019

Reviewed by Clive Burton

 

So, it’s agreed then: Cinderella was a prostitute - according to several trustworthy historical sources at any rate. With this in mind, what liberties established British musical theatre writing team Stiles and Drewe may have taken with the story, will hardly ruffle a feather.

 

Soho Cinders - set appropriately in the (once) historically seedy heart of the West End - lives up to its origins as a true ‘fairy’ tale: this time with an impoverished male Cinders turned escort to make ends meet (no pun intended) at University.

 

In more judgemental times, this might have been viewed as a salacious tale of lust, self-seeking exploitation, political duplicity and sexual infidelity, but here it's presented without judgement as a world gone - literally - to pot.

Being a Stiles and Drewe show, the marriage of words and music remains paramount (the talented pair were entrusted with the latest version of Mary Poppins soon due to open again in the West End) and audiences can take particular delight in the witty lyrics (albeit sometimes lost in Andrew Johnson’s overly-amplified sound design) of a tuneful score that produces a particularly tender Act II ‘slipper’ ballad in which Cinders laments his fate.

The poignant ‘They Don’t Make Glass Slippers’ encapsulates the conflicting emotions at the heart of a show celebrating London’s most colourful district and mixing politics, sex scandals and loose morals in an ill-judged search for love with devastating effects on all concerned. Yet Cinders itself remains unwilling to provide moral guidance through the maze of sexual shenanigans that unfold - although under Will Keith's pacey direction one or two nudges indicate the perspective of the writers.

Although the subject matter may be regarded as risqué in this iteration, its telling (book by Drewe and Elliot Davis) treats most of the characters sympathetically - with helpfully narrated linking interludes - and seldom moves more than a few column inches from today’s headlines.

While ensuring that no one can be identified by any giveaway traits, they all ring true enough to raise a smile of possible recognition; could Christopher Coleman’s Lord Bellingham have drawn on similarities with a former BP Chairman? And who might William George, the manipulative eminence grise campaign manager behind Prince’s candidacy be an amalgam of? Ewan Gillies’ waspish pronouncements as the manipulative William George (“I don’t believe in political jokes: too many of them get elected”)  ensure that his remains a lively presence throughout.

At the heart of this gender-bending Cinderella re-retelling for the texting generation, Luke Bayer’s impoverished Robbie is a naïf student who becomes romantically involved via an internet hook up with London Mayoral candidate James Prince; played by Lewis Asquith, his USP is his honesty - a card he overplays for all it’s worth while deceiving the electorate, his colleagues and fiancée about his true sexuality.

Sweet-voiced Bayer (an alternate lead in Everyone’s Talking About Jamie) makes an appealing foil to his rather staid lover who, despite ever-present media interest, inexplicably insists on arranging trysts in such public places as Trafalgar Square.

Subplots abound with Robbie’s two media-hungry sisters camping it up with OTT performances of the self-explanatory ‘I’m so Over Men’(dismissed as ‘the shits who pass in the night’) and ‘Fifteen Minutes’ (a paean to the transience of fame) delivered with shameless abandon at ear-shattering volume by Michaela Stern and Natalie Harman as pantomimic step-sisters - roles that could prove even more outrageous if played by actual drag queens? 

Perhaps the most sympathetic characters emerge as the two women most affected by the story yet seemingly unable to influence its outcome until they meet: ‘Let Him Go’ touchingly expresses the conflicting emotions shared between Tori Hargreaves (as Prince’s betrayed fiancée, Marilyn) and Robbie’s best friend and confidant Velcro (Millie O’Connell).

Despite multiple machinations, the (expected) happy ending materialises as scores are settled on all sides.

* In a curious case of life imitating art, on the morning after the First Night, Parliament's sleaze watchdog ordered the temporary suspension of Keith Vaz, Britain’s longest-serving Asian MP, on a charge of significantly damaging the reputation of Parliament by "expressing willingness to purchase" cocaine for two male prostitutes. Plus ca change

Performances:

Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm
Thursday and Saturday at 3pm

Ticket prices:

From Monday 28th October: £20 - £37.50

The box office is open from 2 hours
before curtain time on performance days for
personal callers

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Charing Cross Theatre
The Arches
Villiers Street
London WC2N NL 
Box office: 08444 930650
www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk

Performances 
Monday – Saturday at 7.30pm 
Matinees:  Wednesday at 2.30pm 
and Saturday at 3.00pm 

Ticket prices: £22.50 - £32.50 

Upgrade your ticket to include a glass of 
bubbly and a programme for just £7.50 

A booking fee applies to phone and internet 
orders; no booking fee to personal callers 

The box office is open from 2 hours 
before curtain time on performance days for 
personal callers