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Director's program notes

By Dr. Brian Cook

I first encountered Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Ash Girl when I was assigned the role of Lust for an in-class assignment in my master’s program in London. It’s a play that’s always stuck with me, I think because of how it uses the familiar story of Cinderella examine modern-day life. It also has a great message about “True Love,” namely that, in contrast to most fairy-tale depictions, love is not instant and everlasting. It takes work. 


Most Cinderella stories feature work, mostly Cinderella’s having to slave away for her stepmother and stepsisters. Wertenbaker also writes work into The Ash Girl, but instead of being forced to work, here Ashgirl chooses work as a way of staving off the crushing depression she’s experienced since her father abandoned the family. But the stepsisters and the stepmother also work as well: as the stepmother tells her daughters, “One of you will marry the prince, but you’ll have to work at it.” 

If anyone is forced to work in Wertenbaker’s story, it’s the stepsisters. Their work requires primping and dressing and fawning, the same messages featured every day on the front pages of real-life magazines like Cosmopolitan: “Look Sexy Now: Make Them Obsessed With You” or “The Secret to Being a Great Kisser” or “Sex to Make Him Fall In Love” (all real, by the way). 

In the end, though, this work is contrasted with the actual work required for True Love (if such a thing even exists). Ashgirl and the Prince both have to overcome a lot of their own hang ups before they can live “happily ever after,” and Wertenbaker even calls such forever happiness into question. The Ash Girl mixes the classic fairy tale with some very contemporary issues, opening up new possibilities for how such great stories can inspire our lives. 

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