Throughout the sorry saga of Lord Lloyd Webber's Cinderella, its creator demonstrated an unhappy knack of getting almost every key decision wrong.
From start to finish, rather than casting himself as a noble Prince Charming or showing the humility of the title character, his noble lordship consistently seemed determined to exude the arrogance of a wicked stepmother and is literally paying the price.
Along the way, the great man went into denial about COVID, attempted to cajole and even bully the government, issued what turned out to an empty threat to go to gaol without passing go or collecting much more than £200, introduced what sounded a cock-eyed means of avoiding coronavirus, tested out at public expense at the Palladium and, inexplicably, decided to re-mortgage his home to keep the show on the road.
Having announced the musical’s closure next month and allegedly informed many of the incoming actors and backstage team members via press release, his next venture might easily be a new entertainment based on the unlikely drama that was the life and death of an ill-fated disaster that should never have happened.
This could be a novel, musical or perhaps even a disaster movie with Tom Cruise ideal casting in the role of LLW.
Those involved at the sharp end are predictably angry. Lord Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group disputes the allegations by both staff and unions who claim that some of those involved learned about the closure via press release rather than direct contact. Summer Strallen, who will no longer get a chance to play the Queen, has been eloquent in her condemnation, having learned via a friend who saw a news story that a year-long contract had disappeared without trace.
If the story is true, this smacks of the insensitivity of P&O, although the circumstances are clearly somewhat different, since although the sackings have been made to shore up the finances of the underlying business, there is no talk of an imminent revival, although the show may well take to the road here and is set for a Broadway transfer.
Unfortunately, the nature of the theatre industry is that livelihoods are always under threat and that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. This means actors and backstage crew constantly risk the loss of livelihood, sometimes overnight.
Many of those who will find themselves unemployed next month may have had no alternatives, having backed what must have seemed like a very good prospect in the legendary Lord Lloyd Webber.
Others might have turned down lucrative film or TV opportunities in order to work on what they expected and hoped would be a sure-fire hit. They particularly deserve our sympathy at a time when theatres are still struggling to recover from the ravages of the pandemic.
Ultimately, the Cinderella project seemed to be doomed from a very early stage and perhaps the most rational way for many of those working on the show to look at it is that they have had some solid paid work for a few months, which might not otherwise have materialised.
Given that he will soon have a theatre to fill and a bank balance to replenish, perhaps Lord Lloyd Webber might be best advised to revive one of his guaranteed money-makers such as Evita and, wherever possible, people it with those who have just discovered via social media that their redundancy notices are in the post.
The parlous state of the London stage was brought into even sharper focus when The Old Vic reluctantly accepted that its much-delayed revival of Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles, which was to have starred Timothée Chalamet and Eileen Atkins, was now never going to happen.
In a desperate plea, Artistic Director Matthew Warchus informed those who had tickets that the theatre was on “a long and precarious road to recovery and it urgently needs all the financial support it can get”. It went on to inform ticket bookers that they would be playing a significant part in supporting the theatre’s survival if the ticket cost was donated rather than refunded. That message from one of London’s leading theatres is very worrying.