Soho Cinders: Old Compton Street transforms into Walford Square, full of soap-style scandal, politics and true love
If Eastenders could be a musical, it would be called Soho Cinders. However, the characters display far more depth and charisma than Kat Slater ever could. The opening scene is set on Old Compton Road – in the heart of Soho – where we often return. With an exciting and bold musical direction from Sarah Morrison, it is hard to keep yourself affixed to your seat and not rush to the stage and join in. Music is by George Stiles and by Anthony Drewe with book by Anthony Drewe and Elliot Davis. Both Stiles and Drewe have also worked on Honk, Betty Blue Eyes and Mary Poppins.
In a modern re-telling of Cinderella, Luke Bayer plays a young working-class man, Robbie – although his boyish mannerisms and angelic voice suggest that he’s barely set a foot into manhood – who works in the launderette owned by his ugly step-sisters with his friend Velcro (Millie O’Connell). Bayer and O’Connell’s natural chemistry allows you to adore these two misfits who find themselves in Soho living a life that’s not quite the fairy-tale.
Robbie, a young gay man, finds himself in love with the London Mayoral Candidate, and engaged man, James Prince (Lewis Asquith). However, he is also seeing wealthy business owner Lord Bellingham (Christopher Coleman) who showers Robbie with gifts and flowers, and is also sponsoring Prince’s political party. As this is a satirical twist of Cinderella, we see this love triangle reach a scandalous crescendo at James Prince’s party for his sponsors – you half expect to hear the duff duff of the dramatic Eastenders theme tune. The political backdrop adds a great deal of relevancy. The veneer of moral perfection, which includes a total aversion to homosexuality, has a resemblance to the upstanding politician whose partner, usually the wife or first lady, is the coat stand on which the voting public can hang their doubts on. Prince’s spin doctor, William George (Ewan Gillies) seems like a less foul-mouthed but far more ambitious version of Malcolm Tucker. One can only imagine what a play with Tony Blair and Alastair Campbell belting show tunes would look like.
The two sisters (Michaela Stern and Natalie Harman), as horrid as they are to their younger step-brother, still deserve our affection. With their cans of beer and a kebab on the way home, they epitomise a typically British Friday night out. They’re also hilarious. Their endeavours in finding love seem fruitless as they dwell on the shallowness of one-night-stands, castigating men and yet offering their ample bosoms to any takers. This comic duo provide us with a different perspective on millennial dating in the capital and a light-hearted side to the story. In their cruelty, they demand higher rent from Robbie, who is already impoversihed. This would mean that he would have to move away to live with his auntie, in Margate; a modern-day alternative to the fairy-tale banishment.
Velcro is brilliantly performed by Millie O’Connell as a witty (“I wanted to get out of Staines, now I’m washing them”) and charming portrayal of the typical girl next door. The skill of her voice really comes through as she duets with Marilynn Platt (Tori Hargreaves), singing “Let Him Go”, which is another tearjerker.
There are several musical scores which certainly moisten the eyes. “They Don’t Make Glass Slippers” is a real challenge to anyone who prefers to watch theatre with a fixed stoic expression on their face. In this song, Robbie starts to understand that falling in love isn’t without its obstacles. The loutish stepsisters, who perform “I’m So Over Men” with some raunchy dancing, bringing some fun and truth about dating that will certainly have some nodding in agreement.
With a sweet, heart-warming conclusion, we see a happily ever after, after all. It is a play that has everything from tragedy to pure comedy gold. The only criticism is that the cast are overwhelmingly white, which in modern-day London, is not very realistic. However, with that aside, the cast do bring a great deal of energy, fun and passion to the stage which makes you wonder whether you should’ve brought along tissues or some party poppers.
The musical score is excellent and will certainly have you humming a tune on your way home. Soho Cinders is a reminder that though falling in love can often be a complicated, tumultuous journey, it is always magical.
Soho Cinders will be playing at Charing Cross Theatre until the 21st December
Photograph credit: Pamela Raith.