If you choose to come to the Traverse Theatre’s production of Cinderella to escape the obligatory audience participation of Christmas pantos, you’re out of luck. Although you may be asked for a few “oohs” and “aahs” from performer Rick Conte, in return he offers a magical hour of puppet theatre, with the help of Shona Reppe’s creative retelling of the classic fairy tale.
The Traverse 2 stage is already a reasonably small space. Yet as you walk in, you will be surprised to see an even smaller stage than usual before you, no more than six feet long. This seemingly small set transforms into Cinderella’s world, which is filled with small surprises to marvel at throughout.
As for the show’s protagonist, Cinderella doesn’t say much – not with her voice at least. Instead, Conte’s puppeteering offers us a remarkably charming and vulnerable young woman, bullied by her step-sisters and desperate to find a way out. Reppe’s design of Cinderella’s face is astounding; with a tilt of the head she goes from fed up to filled with happiness and hope for the future. The way in which Conte is able to give life to this small, unassuming puppet is amazing, and the interactions he shares with young Cinderella are genuinely lovely to watch.
Contrary to the original fairy-tale, Cinderella has fierce competition in the form of her cruel step-sisters. While they may not get Prince Alvin’s attention, as a consolation they instead win over the hearts of everyone sitting in the audience. Conte’s ingenious double act are a great, albeit very squealy, comedy duo. Asking his audience to believe that two feathery, bejewelled gloves are in fact a pair of high-pitched, self-obsessed sisters is no problem, and some people may find themselves forgetting Cinderella, left tucked away in a drawer. Nevertheless, they get their comeuppance in the end, with Reppe surprisingly opting for the tale’s original ending.
On the whole, Conte does an excellent job, even though his attempt at a Scottish accent may be a little dodgy (resulting in a funny quip about the sisters being from the Cairngorms). Still, his charm fills the room with innocent laughter and delight. Without a doubt, Cinderella will leave adults as enthralled as the children who likely brought them there in the first place.