Theatre critics have praised actor Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance as Buttons at the opening night of Cinderella at the Ambassador’s Theatre. The notoriously reclusive method-actor famous for movie roles in There Will Be Blood and The Unbearable Lightness of Being, helped make the show a sell-out in record time.
Nicholas De Jong, writing in the Evening Standard, said: ‘Day-Lewis lacks the exuberance of, say, Brian Conley, but succeeds in making the character fantastically complex. He is in torment; torn between his lust for Cinderella and his sense of duty to Prince Charming. The play hints heavily that the principal boy is indeed a girl, and Day-Lewis ramps up this sexual ambiguity to a level beyond even John Barrowman.’
The Stage’s Cathy Sawyer went so far as to declare the production, ‘more bitch-slappin’ than ‘thigh slappin”. Critics who had sniffed at his casting were forced to admit they’d been proved wrong. The Telegraph’s Charles Spencer noted: ‘If someone had asked me before the show has there ever been a madder, wittier, spiritual and more desperate Buttons, I’d have said ‘Oh yes, there has’. But afterwards I had to concede, ‘Oh no, there hasn’t’.’
Guardian critic, Kitty Faulds, liked Day-Lewis’s earthier interpretation of the role: ‘In choosing to opt for a red pillbox hat and pageboy’s uniform, rather than the traditional blue, Day-Lewis is perhaps hinting at the character’s impishness or even demonic quality – a curupria, if you will. I liked his wicked grin as he pretended to throw water over the front row. A couple of people ducked, he’s that good.’
‘His savage mockery of the two ugly sisters feels like it might tip over into blood-soaked violence any minute. Yet, he is not without tenderness. He recognises that yes, these two women are fat and have beards, but there are still moments when he makes you feel pity for them. And he captured the emotional intensity of the confrontation in Cinderella’s bedroom, the full weight of his grief and anger falling in anguish on Cinders, played magnificently by Melinda Messenger. It’s the first time I’ve ever shouted out, ‘he’s behind you’ and really meant it.’
Maxwell Gane, writing in The Times, dealt with one of the more controversial aspects of the show: ‘The death of the pantomime horse might anger purists, but the revelation that Buttons will have to be the one to put his beloved animal to sleep makes it one of the most heartbreaking things you’ll see all year. Hale and Pace deserve at least some of the credit for this scene; they’ve never been better.’
Sir Trevor Nunn, who directed the show, agrees that the casting of Day-Lewis changed the tone of the production. ‘Daniel insisted that we go back to the classic version of the tale, Pantoufle En Vair, which is about one woman’s magical struggle with abuse and neglect. The way Daniel has built the whole play around Buttons means it never feels old-fashioned, it still has relevance. For instance, when the crowd are booing Baron Hardup, they aren’t really booing Hardup, they’re booing the entire banking system…’