Carrie Hope Fletcher on how Cinderella went 'bad'

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

Image source, Getty Images

Over the last seven months, many of us have become used to the existential horror of Zoom calls with our colleagues.

The prurient thrill of glimpsing their book collection, or the dirty laundry on their bedroom floor, has given way to a sort of Groundhog Day of socially-isolated sadness, as the prospect of returning to the office fades further and further over the horizon.

Now imagine that your Zoom call is with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and, instead of ignoring a PowerPoint presentation, he's expecting you to sing for him.

Sounds terrifying, right? But for Carrie Hope Fletcher, calls like those have been a major part of her year.

The actress has been cast in the title role of Lord Lloyd-Webber's new production of Cinderella - but with theatres shut since March, she's been forced to learn and rehearse the part remotely.

However, it quickly became clear that apps like Zoom and FaceTime weren't good enough. Their behind-the-scenes processing does funny things to time, making it impossible to duet with someone on the other end of the line.

Instead, Hope Fletcher had to build a miniature recording studio in her home office, using dedicated software to allow real-time collaborations.

"Then I put my headphones on, and I could hear Andrew at home and I could hear the producer in LA. So I was linked up to everyone - and that got over the Zoom call lag," she says.

Image source, The Really Useful Group
Image caption,
Carrie Hope Fletcher and Andrew Lloyd Webber are working on a "modern take" of Cinderella

Even then, home studios don't offer the acoustic isolation of somewhere like Abbey Road - as Hope Fletcher discovered.

"I did an audio book a few weeks ago and I had to sit under my desk with a bunch of cushions and duvets [to stop the echo]," she laughs.

The 28-year-old is speaking to the BBC over the phone, immediately after having a fitting for her Cinderella costumes in Covent Garden. It's fair to say she's buzzing.

"It's the first time you get a glimpse into what you're going to look like - and how you're going to feel - on stage as the character, so it's really exciting," she says.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Carrie Hope Fletcher performed in the updated Les Miserables - The Staged Concert in 2019 with (left to right) Matt Lucas, Alfie Boe and Michael Ball, with Cameron Mackintosh (back) as producer

The new production, which was scripted by Killing Eve's Emerald Fennell, is described as a "modern take" on the fairy tale, meaning Hope Fletcher is sworn to secrecy on the plot.

She can't even reveal whether her costume involves the traditional chambermaid rags and fairy godmother-bestowed ball gowns.

"She definitely has two looks," is all the actress will say.

And what about the infamous glass slippers?

"There will be slippers, yes. And I think this Cinderella will tell you, quite bluntly, that they will make your feet bleed."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Carrie Hope Fletcher played Veronica Sawyer in Heathers

Another glimpse of Cinderella's new-found feisty nature is revealed in the song Bad Cinderella - which is being released this week, even though Covid-19 means the musical has missed its premiere date by a month.

"She's a loner, she's a loon, a loser," sings Hope Fletcher, ticking off all the "cruel taunts" that are flung in her direction.

But rather than accept her fate, this Cinderella is defiant. "I am proud that I'm not like you," she spits back. "I hope I have upset you."

Hope Fletcher explains: "Cinderella lives in a town that doesn't like her for a very specific reason.

"She doesn't really fit in with everyone - and this is the first song that she actually sings. It's her description of what everyone thinks about her and how she doesn't really care, all that much."

Hope Fletcher won the part of Cinderella last year, having previously starred in productions of Heathers and The Addams Family, as well as playing Eponine in Les Miserables for two years and eight months between 2013 and 2016 - the longest run for any actress in that role.

The journey started with a phone call inviting her to come and sing some new material in Lord Lloyd-Webber's offices in February 2019.

"I was like, 'Yeah, sure, that sounds like a fun afternoon, why not?'" she recalls.

The composer taught her a few melodies, which they recorded in a studio a couple of days later. "And I thought, 'That's it.' It's not often, as an actress, that something like that leads into actually playing the role," she says.

Instead, Hope Fletcher was called back to a workshop where the music was finessed and the lyrics tweaked. Again, Hope Fletcher assumed she was being asked for her assistance as an experienced West End player, rather than auditioning for a part.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
A defiant announcement for Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in London

"Then, a couple days later, I got a call saying, 'Actually Andrew's making this happen, it's going to be a full-blown production and would you like to play Cinderella?'"

She told her agent: "That's a stupid question. You should have just told him yes and asked me later!"

The singer says getting to originate a role in the West End is "the dream", and she's fully embraced the opportunity.

"I've been part of shows that are long runners, and they're much more rigid," she says. "You get told, 'This is where the character stands, and this is how you say that line because we know it gets a laugh.'"

When she joined Cinderella, however, "nothing existed", meaning she "got to be involved in a lot more creative conversations".

Image source, The Really Useful Group

"Like, the songs were still being written so you get called in and Andrew Lloyd Webber will be sat at the piano and he'll say, 'How does this sit in your voice?' And I'd like, 'It's great but it could be a little bit higher.'"

By now, of course, the musical should have been settling into its second month in the West End. Instead, producers are hoping to start previews in the spring.

Work has continued throughout lockdown, and Hope Fletcher says the show has improved as a result.

"I keep saying that we're going to be the most well-prepared cast to ever go into the first day of rehearsals," she laughs.

The cast album - which was recorded earlier this year in London's RAK studios while observing social distancing restrictions - will also come out before the musical opens, meaning audiences will be familiar when the doors finally open.

"It's reminiscent of the days of Jesus Christ Superstar, when the album came out before the show began," says the actress.

"I think it's just a great way to involve an audience - because tickets are expensive and you don't really want to risk going to see something you're not going to like.

"So I'm hoping that people will love it so much that they're like, 'Oh my God, this is something that I just have to see for myself.'"

Nonetheless, she shares the frustrations of many in the industry at the uncertain future facing live performances, airing the common grievance that "people are allowed to sit shoulder-to-shoulder on planes and they're not being allowed in theatres".

She praises Lord Lloyd-Webber for putting pressure on the government to get the arts sector back on its feet, and for the self-funded pilot performances he's staged in an effort to prove socially-distanced shows are possible.

When audiences do return, the actress expects emotions will run high.

"I went to see Jesus Christ Superstar at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre [this summer] and I sobbed," she says. "Literally at opening notes, as the cast walked on stage, I cried."

"I mean the show is incredible, but it had barely even started and I was already in tears - and it was just because I was sat in an audience again. There is something about a live performance that you just cannot replicate anywhere else.

"Live streaming has been wonderful but it's just not same as sitting there and experiencing that electricity, with a group of other people that you don't even know and all being brought together."

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