Tobacco Factory Theatres is one of the many venues throughout Britain to now offer relaxed performances of popular shows, an initiative that takes into consideration those audience members with additional needs and their families. The house lights are left on, noise levels are adjusted and a chill-out area is provided. Relaxed theatre brings a normality to talking whilst actors are on stage and makes it more than OK to leave your seat however often you wish, even if its simply to swap places.
After Revival Director, Chris Pirie (the original show was directed here in 2011 by Sally Cookson), has made all this clear to us, the seven cast members of Cinderella: A Fairy Tale take the stage to introduce themselves and to explain the multiple parts they’ll be playing. We are comfortable, happy, and, yes, relaxed. My companion is my 10-year old daughter and she had her reservations about this, not sure about it being ‘different’ to the type of performance we’ve become used to seeing, the one where you’re supposed to be quiet and ‘well-behaved’.
But that uncertainly disappears within moments. From the off, the audience interacts with the actors and musicians and some imitate the birdsong of the cast, birds playing highly important roles in this adaptation of a fairy tale that bends more towards the darkness of the Brothers Grimm version than any other incarnation. There is joy in this interaction and one man in the audience, who is clearly having his own ball, as he heckles, sings and dances throughout the hour and a half, becomes nigh on the eighth member of the cast, his contribution giving this a unique for-one-night-only specialness. And those on stage react with calm and humour, Joey Hickman as a humorously geeky Prince inviting him to be his confidant and Musical Director and Musician Brian Hargreaves breaking moves with him, quietly, on the periphery.
Children shout out, most memorably when always-a-joy-to-watch Lucy Tuck, firmly in character as Cinders’ dour, sour, mischievous and maternally abused sister asks whether she was the prettiest person at the ball, “You wish!” and “Not a chance” come the cries from Ella supporters in the audience. Her brother, played by Dorian Simpson, another victim of bad and selfish parenting, is sweet and funny and throws the crowd into giggles with his camp attempts to become a princess on the orders of his mother, Ella’s wicked and twisted Stepmother, delivered with delicious malice by Bristol favourite Craig Edwards. We all love Isabella Marshall in the title role, no sickly sweet victim her – this Cinderella is likeable, intelligent and good fun with a song or two in tow.
Brian Hargreaves is joined on a dizzying number of instruments by Alex Heane and, as with most Tobacco Factory Theatres’ Christmas shows, their accomplished musicianship makes us believe that the cast is much bigger than the seven we see before us.
I can honestly say that I had a smile on my face throughout the whole of Cinderella: a Fairytale. And it was refreshing for my daughter to be able to openly ask questions and make observations without fear of annoying those around us. Plus she laughed, often. I only have two queries about relaxed performances such as the one we were fortunate enough to be a part of. Why is this, a Christmas show, put on just past mid-January? Do people with additional needs not deserve to celebrate with everyone else? And why aren’t there more such dedicated shows? This was such a good experience for us – I gave birth to a chatterbox and, for certain theatre visits, I would seriously think about attending a relaxed performance, where we’re free to wriggle and discuss, over an ‘ordinary’ performance. Perhaps families who also like to let it all out could be encouraged to attend – additional needs or not?
See What’s on at Tobacco Factory Theatres here