“In search of Cinderella” came out of a conversation between Deb Richardson, producer at Somerset Film, and me. It was late July/early August when theatres across the UK were announcing there would be no pantomime this year. This was an intolerable proposition for a county like ours, with its numerous local societies producing an annual panto, and steeped in the pantomime tradition. At the same time, some theatres, like Strode in Street, were making all their staff redundant – would they ever open their doors again?
So, the idea was twofold: give everyone a bit of fun and some light relief, at the end of what has been, by anyone’s reckoning, a grim year while, at the same time, raising awareness of the difficulties our small theatres are going through during the pandemic.
The nuts and bolts of how we would deliver this shifted constantly throughout the planning period, depending on the latest guidelines as to whether or not we could perform to a live audience, what size that audience might be, and how much of a mix we might create between a live show and a film. In the end, we had no choice. There was to be no live audience at all. Just a recording of some key reactions (“it’s behind you!”) from pupils at Butleigh Church of England Primary School.
The rest, the structure of the piece, remained pretty much as originally conceived: a couple of scenes and a musical number (unusually for a pantomime, our show features eight original songs, especially written for the show by musical genius Andy Collyer) filmed on the stages, in the corridors and, essentially, the bars of arts centres and theatres throughout the county. We wanted our audience, particularly those who don’t make a habit of visiting live theatres, to know what their local venues look like, to become familiar with them, and to feel they would be welcome when the pandemic is over. We wanted live theatre to survive in Somerset, to thrive.
To that end, the film we are now editing does come with a DONATE button. You don’t have to give anything. We know how hard this pandemic has been for everyone. We know money is in short supply for many. If that’s you, just enjoy and have a laugh on us. It’s free to watch. But, if you can afford it, please do give a donation – whatever you can, whatever you think is appropriate. Every single penny we make we’ll give to the participating theatres and arts centres.
As far as I can tell, this project is unique. There are plenty of films being made of a pantomime on stage without an audience. But that’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to recreate a traditional family panto on film. Aficionados will be happy to find plenty of traditional elements here (many thanks to Butleigh School), including a ghost scene, and we do tell Cinderella’s story faithfully (though she’s a bit sparkier than the average Cinders). We also tell the story of Prince Charming’s search, accompanied by his friend Dandini, for the girl whose foot will fit the slipper. It’s told at a gentler pace, with plenty of jokes, but a bit of pathos too, as the Prince learns more about his kingdom and its people. It’s also our chance to get to know other areas in the theatres and arts centres we’ve filmed in.
Time for the programme notes – who are we? Well, everyone involved in the production of this film is connected to historic Somerset. We were either born here or we live and work here. Somerset is close to our hearts. It is, in many ways, the Cinderella of the piece – the beautiful, diverse county everyone drives through, without stopping, to get to Devon and Cornwall. If only they knew what they were missing.
For the most part, we are all theatre makers (writers, producers, directors, actors). Nick White, the director, Ged Stephenson, an Ugly Sister, and I, the producer, are all founding members of the Somerset Theatre Collective. Nick runs his own theatre company, Wassail, very much embedded in the communities and landscape of Somerset. Ged, together with Leela Bunce, who plays the Prince, are two halves of Shoebox Theatre. Matt Emeny, who plays Buttons, is a theatre and film maker who runs Calf 2 Cow, and Katy Sobey, Cinderella, is already a veteran actor of stage and screen and has a fabulous singing voice.
This is my second project, as writer, working with composer, Andy Collyer. Our first show, Bipolar: The Musical, was pulled the day before its first performance; 23rd March, the day we went into lockdown. I’ve had a long association with Somerset Film and am delighted to be working with them on this project. They have a great attitude. It can be summed up by the single word “yes”.
The premiere of the film (including live features) will be at 6pm on Wednesday 20th January 2021. You can access it by clicking on www.InSearchOfCinderella.com It’s that simple. It’s FREE to watch, but donate if you can. If you can’t watch it on 20th January, it will be available for the rest of January and all of February by clicking on the same address.
Get involved: we are currently running three competitions – to find the best designed slipper, the most ornate wedding cake, and the ugliest dad dressed up as an ugly sister – all offering opportunities to get a mention or get seen in the final film. For more details about these competitions and about the film and those involved, please visit the website at www.InSearchOfCinderella.com.