A Kiss for Cinderella by J.M. Barrie

Not many today know that J.M. Barrie, famous for creating Peter Pan, also wrote a string of popular plays during the late 19th and early 20th century. A Kiss for Cinderella is a three act play by Barrie. It opened on Broadway in the December of 1916.

A Kiss for Cinderella is a fantasy/romance set in London. The time is during WWI. Food and genuine human affection are scarce. In this bleak time, a girl named ‘Miss Thing’ works as a domestic help. Hungry and alone most of her life, it is her imagination that helps lessen the pain. She believes that she is the fabled ‘Cinderella’ and waits patiently for her invitation to the Royal ball.

The play’s first two acts are sparklingly fresh. The first act introduces Miss Thing or Cinderella, her master Mr. Bodie, the artist and David, the policeman. The policeman wants to find out why Cinderella has been lifting wooden boards from her employer and what she has been doing with them.

The first act contains some witty exchanges between Mr. Bodie and the policeman. It is evident that Mr. Bodie has a great sense of affection for Cinderella. Also, the policeman is portrayed as a thoroughly unimaginative and unromantic man, a paradox to Cinderella’s imaginative and romantic nature.

The second act begins at Cinderella’s home. It is revealed that she is a jack of all trades of her poor neighbourhood. She works as a tailor, a doctor, a barber, etc, etc. all for a penny. The policeman follows her home and discovers the reason she needs the wooden boxes. It is to accommodate a group of war orphans she has been secretly taking care of. After a pretty festive supper with the policeman and the children, Cinderella goes outside to wait for her fairy godmother.

In the second part of the second act we witness Cinderella’s spectacular ball. It is complete with food and ice cream and above all, a prince. A prince who surprisingly looks a little like our policeman.

In the second act the policeman is slowly drawn in to Cinderella’s world. His transformation is remarkable. Also, Cinderella becomes more and more unbalanced as the act progresses.

The third act is set in Dr. Bodie’s country practice. Dr. Bodie is the sister of Mr. Bodie. Here we find out that Cinderella, whose real name is Jane, was brought to the hospital by the policeman after nearly freezing to death. Dr. Bodie makes a gloomy prediction about Cinderella’s fate but she does get her happy ending in the end.

The third act is, unfortunately, not as good as the first two. The introduction of the unnecessary characters of Danny, the wounded soldier and Charlotte, the probationer really dampens the mood of the story. Fortunately, these diversions don’t last for long.

Among the characters the children under Cinderella’s care are absolutely fresh and funny. They make their presence felt in just one act. The central figures of Cinderella and the policeman are good. The policeman’s increasing tenderness towards Cinderella is so moving. His eagerness to make her happy and comfortable really touched my heart. Mr. Bodie is an affectionate, if slightly narrow-minded, man. Dr. Bodie, I really admired. Such a strong female character is very good to see.

I really loved how Barrie portrayed Cinderella’s dream ball sequence. As an extremely poor girl, she has obviously never been to a real ball. Her perceptions are so well imbued in to her dream that not for one moment did I forget that this is Cinderella’s dream. The product of a poor girl’s imagination. Her dream is filled with the things she knows, things that are familiar to her. Only they are tinged highly with an unreality that comes with dreams. For example, she has never seen real royalty. So, the king and the queen in her dream looks like the king and queen from playing cards. Even her fairy godmother is seen wearing a Red Cross Nurse’s uniform, the only caring and kind elderly women she knows.

One thing that really bothered me was the way Dr. Bodie was derided for being a female doctor. It is implied that being a doctor is non-feminine. She needs to be reminded that she is, after all, a mere woman. I know it is a product of its time. But still the derogatory tone used to describe her really irritated me!

It was a little difficult to read the play because every little detail of how the play should be staged is discussed at length. Also, the way some of the minor characters may end up or how their lives are like outside of the time line of the play is really unnecessary.

What I really love about this play is that even though it is essentially a romantic fantasy, it never leaves reality. Especially, the scenes where Cinderella and the policeman converse. The policeman is so sincere in his love but is hopelessly tongue tied and inarticulate. That is what real life is like. People don’t have ready made dialogues for expressing their feelings.

The play is incredibly short. An hour is more than enough to finish it.

A Kiss for Cinderella certainly has its flaws. But the way Barrie provides the reader’s with a happy ending while retaining its closeness to reality is remarkable. I admire this play for that.

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