Kinny Gardner, our narrator, stands on stage, rocking a baby. He welcomes us all to the show, and talks about how early his baby woke up today. He places his hearing aid in his ear, and begins.
Much of this Cinder-Ella is simply Gardner playing and talking. It feels we are visiting this theatre not to hear this story, but to visit this wonderful man. Told bilingually by Gardner in both English and British Sign Language, Cinder-Ella embraces the visual language to create a show accessible not only to children who speak English or BSL but also children who speak neither. Everything spoken is signed, but occasionally words that are signed aren’t spoken: the visual communication is enough.
Caroline Parker’s direction yields considerable delights, from the reveals of Chris de Wilde’s design to Gardner’s personable performance.
The set, at first all shades of grey, is already astonishingly rich, but when the fairy godmother arrives with the colours it feels magical indeed. A cat is created out of a dustpan and feather boa; the stepsisters appear from inside an old boot and bag. We first meet Cinder-Ella as a baby doll, and then see her as a puppet young lady, when even she has mastered a few simple signs.
Gardener takes care to engage with everyone in the audience: this is a show, it feels, built specifically for this audience at this performance, and Gardner is going to give everything he has to every smiling young face.