The curtain rises on the image of an 18th century court shoe caught in a spotlight; shoes and feet play an important part in what is to follow. Through this image we glimpse a simple tableau: a woman lies on her deathbed, attended by her husband, a nobleman of dwindling fortune, and their daughter. The woman gives her daughter a pair of silk slippers (a family heirloom), which the daughter places in a box offered by her Father, who then retires leaving his daughter and wife alone.
Scene 1: The Drawing Room
Some time later, the Father has taken a new wife who has two daughters from a previous marriage. While they are at the wedding ceremony, the new bride has secretly arranged for the house to be redecorated, believing her new husband to be richer than he is. A modest portrait of the dead wife is being replaced above the fireplace with a much bigger one, recently commissioned, of the new wife. The family sweeps in from the wedding; the Father looks shocked and he and his daughter survey their altered surroundings with quiet dismay.
The new “lady of the house” is far too excited to notice this, and when one of the decorators enquires what should be done with the old portrait, she instructs him to throw it in the fire. Finally the Father must pay the bills and, as he sees the tradesmen out of the house, the women of the family are left alone.
The Stepmother and her daughters now set about degrading the young girl. The final insult comes when, after taunting her with the urn containing her mother’s ashes, they tip the contents over her and smear the ashes into her face. She is then put to work in the kitchen, which the Stepmother has neglected to have refurbished.
She has become “Cinderella”- isolated but for an increasingly fragile connection with her Father who seems to be realising that perhaps he has made a big mistake. Cinderella now brings out the partially burnt portrait of her mother, which she stealthily retrieved from the fireplace earlier. Her Father enters, despairing about his new situation and evaporating finances. They comfort each other but the Stepsisters walk in on them and discover the damaged portrait. A squabble ensues, interrupted by the Stepmother who has been disturbed by the commotion. The fracas stops dead and a sudden chill pervades the atmosphere in the room as everyone except Cinderella seems gripped in a trance. Through the door leading from the cellar, a stooped and shrouded figure enters. As it makes its way across the room the family reacts in different ways as this stranger shows its face to each of them in turn. The Father and Cinderella cannot quite believe that the face, though scarred from partial burning, seems to resemble the portrait, thrown so ignominiously into the fire. Seeing that the strange woman has no shoes, Cinderella feels a rush of empathy and recognises that her own recently acquired lowly status has, through her own lack of footwear, secured an uncanny bond of some kind with her.
Cinderella’s Father reminds her of the silk slippers bequeathed to her by her mother and suggests that she offer them to the old woman. She accepts this offer of kindness and in return gives Cinderella a pair of dancing shoes. Cinderella hides them away, and the old woman retires back through the cellar door.
An abrupt knock at the door brings a change of energy as the Stepsisters admit a new visitor – it is the Prince’s Equerry from the Palace, who has come to announce that there is to be a Royal Ball at which it is hoped the young Prince will choose a bride. He hands out invitations to all, but the Stepsisters tear up Cinderella’s and force-feed it to her. There is an air of great anticipation as the Stepmother brings out a huge catalogue and begins to choose a gown and accessories for the Ball. The Stepsisters, too, are encouraged to choose from the catalogue and the Stepmother sits at her desk ordering each item over the telephone with grand indulgence – the Father looks on, dismayed at the expense this will incur.
Items begin to arrive immediately as the Couturier enters with her assistants, followed in rapid succession by the Wigmaker, the Jeweller and the Cobbler. As excitement reaches fever pitch the Equerry announces the arrival of the Royal Dancing Master – for with the invitations comes a free dancing lesson. After the lesson, the family retires to prepare for the Ball.
Alone once more, Cinderella remembers the dancing shoes the old woman gave her; retrieving them from their hiding place, she tries them on and is startled by the energy coming from them and the sense of confidence they give her – they are “magical shoes” and she is empowered by them once more feeling an inexplicable connection with the strange old woman. Dancing herself into a frenzy, she becomes agitated and rails at the Stepmother’s portrait, but her Father enters the room and tries to console her – after all they are in this together, almost strangers in their own house. He notices she is wearing the shoes and Cinderella demonstrates their magical power. He suddenly remembers he came in for his invitation, and retrieves it before bidding Cinderella farewell and leaving her alone yet again – he always seems to be leaving her.
As if sensing that this is one time too many, the old woman now returns and reveals her true identity – this woman is indeed her own mother transformed into a magical fairy…. She has become her Godmother.
Scene 2: The Secret Garden
The room now disappears and the fireplace grows to become a walled secret garden in which four elemental beings appear and show the garden in each of its seasonal changes. New music heralds the arrival of the Cogs – strange women resembling the mechanism within a clock. The Godmother and the Seasons conjure beautiful clothes and, with her hazel wood wand, the Godmother transforms a pumpkin into a hot air balloon ready to take Cinderella to the Royal Ball. With a warning that she must be home by midnight, when the magic will dissolve, Cinderella sails into the air and away to the Palace… and to her destiny.
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