Phew! Carrie Hope Fletcher is finally going to the ball. More than two years since she landed the lead as Cinderella in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Emerald Fennell’s musical reboot, tonight she gets to perform it in front of a London audience for the first time. “At this point, I’m like: just get me on a stage! I just want to be in front of an audience. Even if it’s at 50 percent capacity, I’d rather that than not opening at all,” she says. Her hair is in a wig-friendly headwrap and rehearsals are booming over her dressing room tannoy; the show is very much going on.
But the road to opening has been... fraught. After several postponements, an exasperated Lloyd Webber declared he’d open the show anyway and risk arrest rather than countenance any further delays (it’s an expensive show with a big cast – opening at a reduced capacity is financially perilous). Boris Johnson, perhaps scared Lloyd Webber would turn him into a pumpkin, then suggested Cinderella could be a pilot event and therefore exempt from the delay announced on June 21. Lloyd Webber rejected the offer, stating he could not participate if the rest of the industry were not treated equally, and that he’d shoulder the financial burden himself.
Boris’s bombshell “put everyone in a weird position,” says Fletcher, 28, who has previously starred in every musical thing from Les Mis to Heathers the Musical. “We all want Cinderella to open desperately, we’ve all been on this project for so long now that we just want people to see it. But then we’ve got friends in shows all across the West End who are sat twiddling their thumbs – my boyfriend [Oliver Ormson] is in Frozen, and he’s sat there waiting for it to happen, watching me go off to work every day.”
Fletcher’s pleased Lloyd Webber said no to the pilot. “As actresses, our loyalties lie with the community. We work with so many different producers and companies, you can’t really advocate for only one – the theatre industry is so much more than that. It’s not just the West End, either. It’s theatres up and down the country, it’s the amateur dramatics, the community theatre, not just one big musical opening in the West End. It’s important that it all gets fair treatment.” Some assumed that Boris’s offer was down to Tory chummery – did she feel it was unfair to be singled out in that way? “Yeah, I did get a few tweets that day being like, ‘tell your mate Boris’ and I’m like, ‘my mate Boris...? What?’ As if I’ve got, like, a batphone!”
Boris’s dithering aside, a new Lloyd Webber show – and one in collaboration with the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Promising Young Woman, to boot – is A Moment, and the world knows it. This week, Fletcher woke up to a fangirling tweet from Hollywood star Mia Farrow in response to a video of her performing one of the show’s songs. Russell Crowe tweeted the same video, seemingly so overcome that he simply wrote the words ‘Carrie Hope Fletcher’. There’s a happy, busy feeling in the theatre, with someone knocking on Fletcher’s door every ten minutes – at one point to hang up a crucial costume (no spoilers but it’s very cool). Fletcher has an infectious, bouncy enthusiasm, but she’s trying to remain chill about leading the company of the first new West End musical after lockdown. “If I think about it too much, I’ll freak myself out and run a million miles.”
She says that feminist wordsmith Fennell (pronounced Fen-Elle, I can reveal) has turned the Cinderella fairy tale on its head – but kept all the bits we like. The glass slipper and Prince Charming remain, but gone is the idea that “you have to change yourself in order for someone to love you”. This Cinderella has a gothy vibe, wears Doc Martens, and is seemingly the only person in Belleville, aside from her prince, that doesn’t buy into that oppressive narrative. “They’re like: why is everyone completely accepting this blindly and just going along with it when it makes everyone miserable?” When people criticise Cinders, she decides to own it – and Fletcher hopes young audiences will take away the message that they’re okay as they are. “I do kind of wish this version of Cinderella had been around when I was 17, because I’d have been obsessssssed.”
Working with Fennell is like “being in a room with a genius,” says Fletcher. “You get into a conversation with her and you don’t come up for breath for like 45 minutes, because you just want to listen to everything she has to tell you.” As for Lloyd Webber, a hero of hers since she used to belt Joseph songs at her dad in the car, she finds herself talking to him and thinking, “oh my god, you wrote Memory from Cats! You wrote Music of the Night! I don’t understand how I’m sat with you having a normal conversation. He made me a cup of tea once and I was like... What? Andrew Lloyd Webber’s just made me a cup of tea, this is ridiculous!”
They all worked on the show together during lockdown; a remote recording studio was delivered to Fletcher’s house and she did the cast recording from her bedroom. She and Ormson had moved in together just before the pandemic, and got themselves a lockdown cat - her brother, McFly singer Tom Fletcher, lives around the corner so will be on cat-checking duty when they’re both on stage. The last year has been busy, including a brief run for Fletcher in the Les Mis staged concert (the last show before tier 3 was “heartbreaking,” she says) and the couple felt lucky that they knew they had jobs waiting – but it’s been difficult to see friends have shows cancelled, and “watching the theatre community and industry sort of crumble.”
The last year has meant theatres have had to embrace the streaming world, but Fletcher has always used her digital platforms to give people a look at backstage life. She has quite strict boundaries about what she posts, but “I never used to, I was terrible – I used to overshare all the time, because I was 18 when I started.” She has gazillions of followers but never feels beholden to them – she loves sharing stuff, because “theatre is what I’m passionate about, it’s what I do day in day out, and I love people asking questions about it.”
She’s also an author of several novels, has an Instagram account dedicated to her reading activities, and even has a mini-library in her dressing room. I’m intrigued by how she manages the energetic performer side of herself with the quieter creative side, but she says she’s “100 percent an introvert”. Her job might require her to be on stage in front of thousands of people, “but the more I think about it, it’s about hiding. It sounds really wanky, but I hide behind all these characters, and the reason I love acting is it means I get to step out of who I am for a little while and be someone else.
“When I’m on stage, I do very much feel like I’m Cinderella, which is kind of how I deal with it. But then as soon as it’s like, you’ve got to go out of stage door now, and there’s a hundred people there, and they’re gonna tell you that they had a great time, or some of them might tell you they had a terrible time you go... oh my god, is there another way out of this building?” Musical theatre fans can be quite... passionate, I suggest, but Fletcher says “for the most part, everyone’s ridiculously lovely”. Of course, Covid means that stage door encounters are off the table for a while.
So, the obligatory post-pandemic Lofty Question: what does Fletcher think the future of musicals should look like? “It feels like [musicals] are always a bit of a step ahead, which is why we end up with Kinky Boots, or Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, or Hamilton. I think we need to keep pushing those boundaries,” she says. She’d also like to see more working class kids taught that they can write a West End musical if they want to. “I think it needs to be taught to kids when they’re younger: this is something that could happen for you. There are scholarships, there are grants, there are bursaries.” And, perhaps, one day, Fletcher will write a musical herself - it’s something she’d love to do. “I don’t know when or how – but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t crossed my mind.” But for now... she’s got a ball to get to.
Performances begin tonight at the Gillian Lynne Theatre; andrewlloydwebberscinderella.com