at St Stephens, Saturday 18th August 2012
It’s not as if the story of Cinderella needs a reboot. So many reinterpretations, reimaginings and retellings of the tale have been made that you’d think there would be no room for any more. The central premise behind The Ugly Sisters is one which has surely been observed before, but Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen add RashDash’s trademark charm and energy, creating something which turns the Cinderella story on its head in an hour of pure joy.
The Ugly Sisters (“reclaiming the word”) are here a cabaret duo who want to tell the story from their point of view. In their opinion, it was all Cinderella’s fault (here named Arabella). In this telling, her materialism and the sycophancy bestowed upon her by her stepmother are the truly ugly aspects, causing resentment in Pearl and Emerald. After appearing on a reality TV show to win the Prince’s heart, they are turned against each other in true manipulative Big Brother style, causing the viewing public to turn against them. The show is a clear swipe at celebrity culture and commodity fetishism.
The way in which the piece is presented is its strongest aspect; the use of a cabaret-style setting means the sisters can address us and talk through their story methodically. Along with their backing band, they sing, dance and DJ their way through some toe-tapping music with smart lyrics, interspersed with digressions and duologues. It’s ideal for a late night show, and means the slightly amateur nature of the presentation makes sense. The final moment sees Greenland and Goalen appearing on stage, botox-ed and bewigged, the recogniseable Ugly Sisters of pantomimes.
Though the music is performed well by a three-piece band and sung with stunning versatility by the sisters, the characterisations of all involved is a little weak, making it hard to buy fully the story which is being told. Band members who play other characters in the story are a tad wooden (though this could be a conscious decision), and more could be done with these sections of the piece. Greenland and Goalen are hilarious at points, and it’s clear they’re attempting to show the sisters as simply misunderstood and innocent, but the fact they are in a cabaret setting is not fully exploited; it’s difficult to tell where the characters’ ideas for a piece of theatre end and the actors’ begins.
Regardless of these small issues, The Ugly Sisters achieves its goal of turning the story of Cinderella on its head whilst raising a smile. Some clever lyrics and ideas test our intellectual muscles, while we sit back and enjoy the show. RashDash aren’t doing anything revolutionary or mind-blowing, but my god they do it well.