Review: Sunderella (ARA Darling Quarter Theatre)

Venue: ARA Darling Quarter Theatre (Sydney NSW), Mar 1 – 4, 2023
Playwright: Kunal Mirchandani
Director: Bali Padda
Cast: Nickin Alexander, Aria, Sheila Dickshit, Mohini Dixit, Kashif Harrison, Adish Jain, Zeenat Parveen, Rani, Shabnam Tavakol
Images by Dusk Devi Vision

Theatre review

In this version of a very familiar story, the prince is left with a bangle instead of a glass slipper, to look for the woman of his dreams. Also different in this new iteration of the tale, is that the woman turns out to be a man, who had gone to the ball, dressed in drag. Kunal Mirchandani’s Sunderella moves the story to Mumbai in 1762, for a queer reframing of a classic love story, that should prove more appealing to the many who are tired of the heterosexual dynamic, so obstinately central to virtually all of our fairy tales.

Comical yet tender, Sunderella contains both ironic humour and innocent romance, blended together for a delightful show catering to kids of all ages. Director Bali Padda imbues a delicious camp sensibility throughout the piece, and along with choreographer Zeenat Parveen, deliver something that shimmers reflexively, both on the surface, and from within its vivacious heart. Costumes by Parveen, Shurobhi Banerjee and Mishty Lal, are gloriously assembled, and lights by James Wallis are just as spectacular, for a production that satisfies with its visual sumptuousness.

Parveen further impresses, as performer in the role of The Goddess, with sparkling charisma and a marvellously disciplined physicality, that provides some level of polish, to a presentation that is otherwise memorable for its stable of raw talent. Shabnam Tavakol is strong as the vicious Stepmother, leaving no ambiguity regarding her malicious intentions. The handsome Prince Nirad is played by Nickin Alexander, who brings a valuable earnestness that gives the storytelling a believable anchor. The titular part of Sunderella is shared by Mohini Dixit and Adish Jain, both demonstrating good commitment, to elicit our emotional investment into their show.

The ease with which Prince Nirad was able to adjust to the discovery, that his love is more a man, than a woman, is indeed a refreshing change from what feels like a centuries-long fabrication, that the only appropriate response for a situation of this nature, is panic. It may be with Sunderella that we learn to re-classify the prince as pansexual, or it may be that we learn to ameliorate the way we understand gender, so that those who are disadvantaged because of gender disparities, can begin to live reclaim all they deserve.