Nick Le Mesurier reviews Cinderella, presented by opera company Hightime, at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry
Opera has a reputation for being elitist. Hightime are determined to smash this image and make opera accessible to everyone. Which is not a polite way of saying they dumb it down. What makes this company stand out is the way they offer good opera performances to everyone.
Touring opera companies are not unique. In fact, it's not the big companies with their mega-star singers that are the living pulse of opera, but the smaller ones, both amateur and professional, up and down the country. Hightime, in association with the Belgrade theatre, take public access a step further by opening up their shows to people who would not normally get to see a live performance. As part of their run in Coventry they offer a “relaxed” performance that anyone can attend and is geared to include people with learning and other disabilities.
So much would be admirable enough in itself. But the show has to stand on its merits as opera too. And it does. Sung in English, their version is rich, vibrant and absorbing. The plot of Rossini’s opera takes the fairy tale and gently subverts it. Here the setting is 1920s Hollywood, which especially suits the strutting vanity of some of the characters. Alex Mason and Polly leach are wonderfully florid as the wicked sisters Clorinda and Tiske, driven by their father (Oliver Gibbs) to make a match with mega-star Ramiro (William Morgan). But he has other ideas. He wants to find his one true love. So he plots a ruse, a trick to trick the trickers. He swaps roles with side-kick Domini (Alistair Sutherland) in order to expose the motives of the wicked family. In the process of course he finds the woman of his dreams, the utterly lovely Cinderella (Felicity Buckland).
The pace of this show is fast, the action immediate, and the acting throughout is witty and full of style, pushing the melodrama just far enough to remain emotionally plausible. The audience were certainly entranced and returned the longest applause I have heard at the Belgrade in a long time.
* Cinderella ran until October 29. Visit www.belgrade.co.uk for details of future shows at the theatre.