Soho Cinders has the bare bones of the fairytale Cinderella. But the meat clinging to them in this modern version is much tougher, more rancid and a whole lot pinker.
There’s no downtrodden scullery maid, golden slipper, or prince charming waiting in the wings. Instead, Robbie, the attractive little twink is a rent boy fighting for the affection of a bent – in every sense of the word – wannabe politician who offers him the chance of happiness with a single off-peak ticket to Margate.
It hardly sounds the stuff of dreams, or indeed the making of a decent musical. But, given this modern tale is set in the heart of gays-ville, on streets that are familiar, with characters which we either know, or resemble (embarrassingly), Soho Cinders captures the mood of Soho and those who frequent it perfectly.
Perhaps one of the less than convincing elements of this play is that a laundrette is needed and still exists in such a prime location along the main thoroughfare of Old Compton Street. But that’s the battleground for Robbie (Tom Milner) and his fag hag mate Velcro (Amy Lennox), who’s the sexiest washer woman we’ve ever seen. It once belonged to the boy’s mother, but now his ugly step-sisters, played by the comedy duo and stars of the show Clodagh (Suzie Chard) and Dana (Beverly Rudd) are hell-bent on claiming it as part of their dad’s estate, which includes the sleazy and less than salubrious strip joint located next door. If Robbie could only find his mother’s will that bequeaths the premises to him, then life would be almost complete. And that’s where the story takes a more sinister, potentially true-to-life, but certainly seedier path.
As a rent boy, Robbie finds himself embroiled in a love triangle – actually quadrangle – with some powerful people, who try to help him with his mission. Neil McCaul plays the older, powerful, industry backer Lord Bellingham who falls for the younger, fitter and delicious hired help. But Robbie’s infatuations lie elsewhere and it’s not a plush ball, but instead a crass fundraising event in Central London where everything is exposed and lives are changed for ever. James Prince (Michael Xavier) plays the other love interest and mayoral candidate who has the greatest amount to lose by his involvement with a gay Soho-based rent boy. The question is – who wins in this battle for property, power and ultimately lasting love?
Soho Cinders was a slow burner for its composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe who returned to the script many times before having a proper stab at it a while back. They tried it out for one night only at the Queen’s Theatre before tweaking it for this production. The wait for something completely new, innovative, hilarious and relevant has been a long time coming, but totally worth it. The story may be based on Cinderella, but it’s so far removed from the original, (thank goodness) that its links to it are barely recognisable. What will be more recognisable in the future is the array of totally enchanting and utterly addictive songs written for the play. With numbers like ‘Old Compton Street’ and ‘Fifteen Minutes’, these are tracks you’ll certainly be humming as you canter home through the very street they’re written about.
The entire ensemble cast are terrific, with all of the actors putting in a convincing performance, many having to go on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. But it’s the cockney duo Clodagh and Dana who steal the show with their eye wateringly disgusting take on ‘Soho chic’, their vulgar tongues and even more distasteful loathing for the cutest of them all – little Robbie, the boy they see as having it all.
Soho Cinders is currently on at the Soho Theatre until 9 September.