It’s often said time seems to pass more quickly as you get older, but when I heard a new production of Cinderella was playing at Greenwich Theatre, I worried I’d missed the whole autumn.
It’s a brand-new concept, never done at Greenwich before
Thankfully, it is still August, and I hadn’t edged three months closer to death overnight. But I don’t think I’m alone in connecting the story to the pantomime season. According to a YouGov survey last year, Cinderella is officially the UK’s favourite pantomime, averaging over 50 professional productions every Christmas.
To find out more, I popped down to Royal Greenwich to quiz the show’s director, James Haddrell, musical director, David Haller, and the lady with the missing shoe, Addy Caulder-James.
So, I must ask…are you just terribly eager for Christmas to start early this year?
James Haddrell: The Greenwich panto has become a part of so many people’s annual festive tradition. We have such a loyal following with families coming back year after year.
We’ve been working on building that same spirit in the summer, creating a family show that is a recognisably ‘Greenwich’ production: a combination of a well-told story with characters you can really root for, original music, and a sense of fun.
How does this version of Cinderella fit the bill?
JH: I remember seeing this adaptation of Cinderella when it was produced at the Unicorn Theatre in 2013. I’ve been keen to revisit it ever since.
We’ve replaced the cast of actors and the band from the original with a cast of actor-musicians. It’s given us a whole new language with which to tell the story and make audiences laugh.
Addy Caulder-James: Like other versions of the story, ours also has sprinkles of magic. Except, in our version there is no fairy godmother or horse and carriage.
Our Cinderella is a strong, witty, passionate, woman with a contagious energy to her. She is also a lover of birds. All our magic lives in the ‘birds'.
David Haller: Magic is still at the core of our story, and the music – though completely original – reflects that. This production is entirely reimagined and takes a few twists and turns you won’t find elsewhere.
One thing that makes the Greenwich panto standout for me is its comic-book style. It runs through the costumes and the wonderfully designed backdrops. How did you find a similarly striking – but altogether different – aesthetic for this summer show?
JH: We started with the ball. In this script, the prince dances alone inside the illuminated palace ballroom. Then, with Cinderella, he dances outside, under the starlight. Both are worlds where light is important, but they feel very different. And of course, light can also seem magical.
I was keen to harness this magic and so we came up with a brand-new concept; something we’ve never done at Greenwich before. We built a set entirely made of lights.
We have over 700 bulbs that seem to be magically held together; there’s a frame around them that disappears when they are at their brightest.
With these lights, we create pictures, convey movement, and articulate ideas. Sometimes the light adds structure. Sometimes an ethereal weightlessness. And always the light can create abstract magic.
Like the panto, it promises to be a treat for the ears as well as the eyes. Though you’re not doing adapted versions of pop songs here.
DH: The music is very fun, and we’re sure audiences will be toe-tapping and humming along! I’d say it’s rooted in folk but has elements of jazz, country, and blues thrown in.
Music plays a huge role in storytelling, and to have that music played live adds another layer. Our show features an incredibly talented cast of six playing 17 different instruments between them. Everything you hear is entirely live, and I think that’s magical.
As with many Greenwich Theatre productions, you have a wide range of industry experience in this company. How does this mix of “newbies” and “old hands” help with the creative process?
DH: I’ve learnt so much from this group of people. With such an eclectic ensemble, we’ve had to develop a blend of instruments that wouldn’t usually be found together. Pete (Ashmore)’s talent and experience have been invaluable assets to us during rehearsals, and Addy has brought a youthful, feminist energy to the role of Ella that young women can be inspired by.
AC-J: I’m currently in my final year of the Actor Musicianship course at Rose Bruford. I feel so happy to be making my professional debut on this production of Cinderella with the amazing cast and team. I’ve learnt so much already.
JH: Creating opportunities for emerging performers means a lot to me. There is something magical about seeing someone make that transition from training to a professional environment. Addy is doing a fantastic job.
Finally, I can’t leave without asking if you can give us any clues about what you have in store for the actual Greenwich Theatre pantomime this year…
JH: This year, I’m Happy that it’s off to work we go with the never Bashful, Offie Award-winning team who brought us Sleepy-ing Beauty, The Queen Of Hearts and last year’s Robin Hood.
Written by everyone’s favourite Grumpy baddie, Antony Spargo, panto season arrives in Greenwich from 23 November to 7 January.
Now I must see the Doc as I’m a little Sneezy. You’d be Dopey if you haven’t guessed what our panto is yet.