Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Jimmy Fairhurst: Cinderella

By | Published on Friday 15 November 2019

If you’re looking for a different sort of pantomime experience this year and you’re maybe planning to go without young kids, then I reckon I’ve found one that will go down a storm.

It’s an immersive version of ‘Cinderella’ that’s set in a pub. And the team behind the show, Not Too Tame, have built an actual pub in The Vaults in which to stage their production. I spoke to artistic director Jimmy Fairhurst to find out more.

CM: Let’s start with the story. It’s ‘Cinderella’ – but is it ‘Cinderella’ as we know it? Where does the narrative take us?
JF: It’s lots of the same story and some other interesting changes that come from Cinders and her Dad running a pub. There’s lots of lovely parallels, actually, but Cinderella is a lot more accessible as a character. I suppose they all are, unless your everyday involves princesses and glass slippers, but let’s say you get a ball, some midnight magic, and a lot of mayhem. I think it needs to be experienced for full effect!

CM: What does it have in common with traditional pantomime?
JF: It’s raucous, it’s interactive, there’s magic and absolutely anyone – over fourteen – can come along and have a brilliant time with us.

CM: What’s different about it?
JF: It’s set in a real pub, where the characters have functioning roles that run the whole place and therefore the show is alive and happens all around you and is all round entertaining. You’ll laugh, cry and blow the froth off each other’s pints whilst singing karaoke.

The Cinderella story has been given an alternative, more grounded and mature spin and and is a wicked mother of a night out! See what I did there! I think it feels much more of an event than normal panto. It has three different hearts to it; the panto, the play and the party!

CM: You’ve toured the shows to real pubs in the past – how will it work in The Vaults? What made you decide to stage it in that venue?
JF: We’ve created a real working boozer at The Vaults. Jen McGinley, our designer, is a genius! The design is like nothing you’ll have seen in The Vaults before and Not Too Tame know exactly how to bring any space alive.

We’ve got a real pub where you can have a drink and feel comfortable with the best bits of theatre too; the perfect storytelling venue.

In The Vaults you’ve got these incredible spaces that are literally underground playgrounds. What a perfect place to have your own ‘lock in’. The atmosphere is going to be unreal.

CM: Can you tell us about the writer?
JF: Luke Barnes has been a legend to work with. The process has been really freeing and it’s the first time we’ve worked with one sole writer, so that was a good first date, so to speak!

Luke was adamant that he wanted to make work that his mates that don’t go to the theatre would want to watch and we knew then that this would be a good fit. He gave us this great script and character filled story and then has allowed us the flexibility to find new material if new buildings and spaces, or audiences, have given us opportunity.

If you have a pub with a real life size bear in the corner, it would make sense to somehow get that into a show. It’s about making your local our local. It has allowed it to remain incredibly fresh whilst still being true to the original text and ensures that the show is alive and unique every night.

CM: Can you tell us about your cast?
JF: They. Are. A. Force. All Directors must say that, but we’ve got a real A team of actors, some who have worked with us before, Louise Haggerty, who is also NTT’s Co Director is one of the best and funniest actors out there and I challenge anyone to watch this and tell me I’m wrong.

Then you have people like Lizzie Hopley who has starred in anything from ‘Doctor Who’ to ‘Little Boy Blue’ and made repeated RSC appearances, as well as Pat Knowles, Rosa Coduri and Megan Pemberton who are all new to NTT but all exceptional in their own ways, bringing something new to the ensemble.

And I have a soft spot for Jack Condon, returning as Prince – purely because his karaoke track is still hilarious every time he does it and I’ve seen it A LOT!

CM: Can you tell us about you now? How did you end up working as a performer and director? Was it what you always wanted to do?
JF: I can certainly say it wasn’t the original plan – I did a full Billy Elliot. The plan was Rugby League or writer; my dad played professionally for Wigan and Warrington, and I was at college whilst playing for Leigh Centurions Academy at the time I realised I wanted to be an actor.

I loved words and English and after a Shakespeare lesson, my teacher asked me did I want to do the school play; “Get fuckin real” I thought. But for whatever reason, at sixteen I did my first play and I knew that’s what I was going to do. My father went crackers!

Next day he went in to school to complain, but I remember my drama tutor Miss Shinkfield saying to my dad, “I think he can really do this”. It took him a while to calm down, but not a lot of people stand up to my Dad which I is why an early 50s lady telling him to “calm down and listen” convinced him, and I’m happy to say that he’s now my biggest champion.

I then went on to study at the Royal Welsh College Of Music And Drama, which is one of the greatest places to train. However, when I was in my second year I knew I wanted a voice at the table, in terms of creating work.

After studying all these books and plays I thought, “Where is the next Jim Cartwright? Where are my people’s stories? Where is the Shane Meadows for stage?” That’s when I started Not Too Tame. If my mates from home have got a spare £30 to spend, they’re going on a night out on the razz, watching Netflix, spending it with the kids or hitting the pub.

My job is to create entertainment that is relevant to peoples lives and also offers a brilliant night out that doesn’t break the bank. Our Patron, Chris Ecclestone, once told me, “If you want to really change things, you have to do it yourself”. So that’s what I’m trying to do.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
JF: Working with Mike Leigh on ‘Peterloo’ for eight weeks was unbelievable and really helped me develop my acting process and when Not Too Tame opened the Shanghai International Arts Festival in China that was pretty special. That was a show called ‘Electric Eden’ that has never been seen in its final form and it’s brilliant – keep your eyes peeled for that one! Winning our first ‘sell out laurel’ at Edinburgh was special because we did that as a team, a family of working class artists.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
JF: To create an alternate Urban Rural Touring Network called ‘AAA’ – Access All Areas – that partners non-traditional theatre venues with NPO’s across various regions. For the majority of the working classes to identify Not Too Tame as genuinely valid and trusted form of entertainment. And to help young people from a similar low income background to me to have easier access into arts careers. Also – as an actor – to work with Shane Meadows. How’s that for starters?

CM: Can you tell us a bit more about Not Too Tame and what it does?
JF: We are a multi-award winning theatre company working in ensemble to produce immersive, site specific work. We break the boundaries of tame, polite theatre and craft unique productions that combine quality work with a brilliant night out. Our work celebrates regional identity, champions community and feels like a gig.

We work to forge relationships between traditional theatre buildings and a network of pubs, clubs and music venues. Not Too Tame challenges the preconceptions of what theatre should and can be, and who it’s for. We tell stories with heart, soul and characters you’ll recognise from your own walks of life. We know how to do the best fucking party theatre in the land, so grab a pint, take a seat, and get a load of this!

CM: Does the company have any new projects in the planning stages?
JF: We have just recently been made associate company of the Shakespeare North Playhouse, currently being built in Merseyside, and have also secured a major contract with Warrington Borough Council – my home town – to develop theatre provisions for the borough, so we’re heading North to make new shows there which we will then tour around the UK and beyond! I think we have to bring Electric Eden back though as it’s a monster of a show with fire and heart. It’s a modern day musical, a protest you can dance to!

CM: What’s coming up next for you, and the company, after this?
JF: Well, we’re going to entertain the whole of London with ‘Cinderella’, then I’m going to go and hang out with my daughter Amelie for a good chunk of time first! Then I’m going to be doing Jim Cartwright’s ‘Two’ at the New Vic in Stoke and some directing at ALRA Drama School, and then we’ll be building our AAA Urban Rural Network to then tour new and exciting work from NTT and other bright young companies!

‘Cinderella’ is on at The Vaults from 22 Nov-12 Jan. See the venue website here for all the info and to book.

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