The Ash Girl By Timberlake Wertenbaker

Dates and Venue 13, 14,15, 20, 21 & 22 November 2008 @ 8pm (matinee perfofrmances on Nov 18 & 19 @ noon and Nov 16 & 22 @ 2pm) | Capilano University Performing Arts Theatre

Director Stephen Atkins, Costume Design Sheila White, Lighting Des Price, Stage Management matt Oviatt

Reviewer John Jane

The classic tale of Cinderella has enchanted and enthralled young children through pantomime and Disney for generations in the former and since 1950 in the latter.

British playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker (yes, that IS her real name) has preferred a more darkly lyrical account of the Cinderella story that delves into the very human fears and self-doubt that all of us eventually struggle with.

Wertenbaker‘s Ashgirl abandons all the maudlin trappings of the cheery and wholesome heroine in Disney‘s animated feature film, and instead opts for a gloomier and angst-ridden persona. Her enemies are not her stepsisters, who aside from having nicer clothes, actually share more in congruity than division, or even her stepmother who is more quick-tempered than evil. Her jaundiced negativity leaves her an easy target for Sadness, represented in the spectral form of Gwen Gerryts, who stalks her prey with an irresistible, yet chilling determination.

A further addition to Wertenbaker’s intriguing variant are the Seven Deadly Sins; transmogrified into phantasmagorical animal forms with wildly quixotic names such as Slothworm, Angerbird and Gluttontoad, they provide much of the show’s comedy. Greedmonky and Lust are the most noticeable members of this motley gang. The former played with roguish charm by Rick Beauchamp (who also choreographs the fight scenes); the latter, an agreeable exception to the other’s hybrid appearance, is played with campy sensuality by Fanta Sesay.

Other standout performances come from Kristi Tayelor and Jessica Kunz who are fearlessly flaky as the over-indulged stepsisters Judith and Ruth. They suffer as much abuse as they dish out from their sullen stepsister, and hardly any worse than the mean-girls that might be found in the senior year of any high school.

Performers are elaborately clothed with the inspired designs of Sheila White’s well constructed costumes. Likewise, Mat Herrmann’s functional sets depicting a large old house and foreboding forest, though unremarkable, create the appropriate ambiance.

Director Stephen Atkins does well in guiding Capilano University’s aspiring talent through an ambitious project, while managing to retain much of the author’s quirky originality. But why do the two principle characters, Ashgirl and the moody Prince Amir have to be so morose? Fortunately there is enough levity from the supporting cast to counteract the play’s tenebrous themes.

In the end, the prince too predictably captures Ashgirl’s heart. To the extent that they live happily ever after is equivocal – he should have chosen Lust - she seems a lot more fun.

© 2008 John Jane