Harrington: And they all lived unhappily ever after…

Friday, 6th May

Cinderella- Credit Tristram Kenton

The ball scene from Lord Lloyd-Webber’s Cinderella, which runs at the Gillian Lynne Theatre until June 12

SEVEN years ago, that apparent national treasure Andrew Lloyd Webber took some form of starlight express to jet back from New York to London and found himself in town just in time to vote in favour of the then-chancellor George Osborne’s plan to cut tax credits for the working poor.

The dash to the red sofas was in vain as the government lost the vote by 17 votes – a close-run thing – and the policy was delayed.

The response was an angry threat to reform the Lords.

Harrington has not much time for an unelected chamber at the best of times, I’m afraid, but it always seems a little uglier when often very well-off people who have never risked putting themselves up for the public vote race around in this way. A busy man, Lord Lloyd-Webber had hardly voted on anything despite having thousands of chances to do so before that night.

As people asked what a multi-millionaire was doing crossing the Atlantic to be there this time, a statement was later released insisting he had been back for the opening night of Cats at the London Palladium. “Coming back to London allowed him to vote in the House of Lords last night,” it added.

“He voted last night because he feels that it is important for democracy that the House of Lords should not override decisions made by the elected House of Commons. While there are important constitu­tional issues concerning the House of Lords, Andrew is pleased that the Chancellor, George Osborne, is reviewing the tax credits situation.”

So to recap: he was fretting about the principles of our democracy in a chamber where nobody has to win an election. Of course, Lord Lloyd-Webber, who became a Conservative life peer in 1997, talks of nothing much else about wanting to reform the system from within… Hang on, no, that’s all the others – Labour, Lib Dems, Greens too – who agreed to take a seat in that room despite lifetimes of talking about the importance of fairness and equality. It doesn’t take much to distract some people.

I was reminded of this whole episode as the hard workers who keep London’s Theatreland thriving picked up their placards to protest at the sudden abandonment of Lloyd-Webber’s post-lockdown triumph, Cinderella, at the Gillian Lynne Theatre. Members of Equity and the Bectu union held the demo on Tuesday amid swirling anger that the great impresario’s people had failed to tell all of the cast and company that it would be shut down and moved to Broadway.

Ticket-holders for future dates will get their money back; a new cast of actors who were due to join have learned that they will have to find another gig somewhere else. This stuff happens, shows open and close sometimes very speedily, but the way staff say they were told seemed particularly cruel. Imagine finding out everything you are doing – and paying the bills with – has been punctured by scrolling through social media or reading it on a news story.

Maybe it could be summed up best by Luke Latchman, who had also been due to join the show, when he tweeted: “Imagine – planning in your head 100 times what you’re going to say when it’s announced. Telling your friends and family you have something coming and can’t wait to tell them about it. Knowing that career-changing West End lead was coming.

“Then you see a tweet and it’s all gone.”

Equity called it a callous attack on the cast’s dignity.

So what does the good Lord say?

A spokesperson for Lloyd-Webber’s Really Useful Group said on Monday: “Everyone involved in Cinderella was contacted by call, email or in person (some through agents) before the news went live in the evening.

“Every effort was made to ensure people were notified before it went live, while trying to manage how quickly it would move on social media once people were informed.”

The explanation hasn’t washed with those who were bringing in the audiences and drawing splendid reviews for a reworking of the timeless tale of a woman, who perhaps might need tax credits in the current climate, lifted from the cinders only by magic and sorcery. If only all peers could be fairy grandfathers.

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