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Ugly stepsisters, a prince and iPads: a modern take on a classic tale

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Kelvin Hastings-Smith is the director of Cinderella, this year’s BMDS pantomime (Photograph by Jenn Campbell)

Cinderella is on its way.

BMDS has modernised the familiar tale for its pantomime this year: break dancing replaces ballet, credit cards and electronic devices are abused.

There is, however, one blast from the past – Kelvin Hastings-Smith.

The retired lawyer played “the Dame” in several of the productions put on by BMDS before he and his wife, Julie, left Bermuda for Suffolk, England, in 2012.

He is back this year to direct what the Bermuda Musical & Dramatic Society describes as a “collaborative script”, featuring original music by James Burn.

In this version “a modern-day mom” insists her “device-happy children” put away their technology and use their imagination to create a story.

“They spin a tale of a once-wealthy baron, now hard up because of his pesky stepdaughters’ extravagant use of his credit cards,” the synopsis reads.

“He is sad, being unable to prevent his stepdaughters, who are also on the rather ugly side, from making life intolerable for his real daughter, Briar Rose. They call her Cinderella because she has to clean out the cinders of all the fires at Hardup Hall every day.”

As with the traditional tale, Cinderella longs to go to the ball, where it is said the prince will choose his bride. Instead, she is given chores to complete.

A fairy godmother and “some high-stepping, hip-hopping mice” eventually get her to the gala. She is happy there in the prince’s arms until midnight when she is forced to flee, leaving a shoe behind.

Entranced, the prince “enlists his trusty servant, Dandini, to find her as no one knows who this beautiful young woman is”.

Mr Hastings-Smith is thrilled to be part of it all. He was last involved with Bermuda theatre in 2015 when he was invited by BMDS to direct that year’s panto, Pied Piper.

“They extended an offer to me last year as to whether or not I'd be interested and I think, because opportunities in life come around rarely, you should be ready to grab them with both hands because there's no point in having any regrets,” he said.

In the UK, Mr Hastings-Smith is still busy administering law – as a magistrate and a lay judge for family court. He was also active in the theatre. As a member of Dedham Players, “one of the leading local amateur theatre groups” in the area, he has received several awards for acting and directing.

“I have appeared on the boards and I have directed shows for them and been very successful,” he said. “Unfortunately, because of Covid and the like, the group has folded. I don't know whether it's the same here but generally people have lost confidence in going out or doing volunteer things at the weekend and evenings so it's been very difficult to attract people to assist in setting up theatre. There’s no shortage of people wanting to act, but when it comes to the backstage and technical stuff, people aren't so keen.”

Cinderella presented him with the “opportunity to direct a big show again”.

A visit in early September to cast people for the pantomime was bookended by Hurricane Idalia and Hurricane Philippe. Auditions were held on a Saturday afternoon “in really humid, dark circumstances because the electricity was out at the theatre”.

“We had the musical director and myself and a choreographer. We sat and we saw countless people who came in wanting to audition,” Mr Hastings-Smith said.

“The choice was made, offers were made, people said: ‘Yes, OK, we'll do it.’ And then on we got with it. We've got a fabulous sound; a great wall of sound from these actors on stage who sing really, really well. And we've got fantastic dance sequences, which involve all of the cast and, separately, all of the children who will not be doing ballet [as is traditional]. We're going to do some hip-hop, something different.”

He was thrilled when, midway through the audition process, Marcus Smith walked in. The actor stole the show last month as Donkey in the Gilbert & Sullivan production of Shrek the Musical. Mr Hastings-Smith had not seen him since they appeared together in The Railway Children, a musical BMDS put on in 2009.

“At the audition, this 6ft 3in Black guy, with dreadlocks, which were about 5ft 10in, came into the theatre and he was larger than life; absolutely incredible.

“The man has got so much energy. He really blew me away. He is working with our choreographer, a young lady called Sophia Card, and between the two of them they have created some fabulous [dance moves] and I'm very, very proud of the work they've done because it really enhances the traditional story of Cinderella and brings it to a modern era if you like.”

Kelvin Hastings-Smith as the dame in a previous BMDS pantomime (File photograph)

Some added twists should give the story fresh appeal to people who are familiar with it, Mr Hastings-Smith said.

“The Baron, who's played by Alan Brooks, is the typical downtrodden guy. His wife died. He went on to a dating app, swiped right and ended up with another wife and two ugly stepdaughters played by Dr Philip Jones and Shawn Angiers, both well-known pantomime actors.

“His bank accounts are emptied by these two ugly sisters, who treat Cinderella, played by Marissa Trott, very badly and Cinderella is confined to the basement kitchens. There is a major ball – which is also a bit different for us – and yes, there's a shoe left, and the rest is a fairytale.”

Kelvin Hastings-Smith with Becky Ausenda who plays the Fairy Godmother in this year’s BMDS pantomime, Cinderella (Photograph by Emma Muggleton)

There are two surprises which, Mr Hastings-Smith insisted, had to remain as secrets.

“There's something different to start with – I can’t tell you what that is – and a really fabulous ending which will have people leaving the theatre tapping their feet. They'll have earworms for the rest of December.

“But rehearsals are going reasonably well. We have a show and now it needs to be polished. The drops have all been painted. The scenery, to an extent, has already been made. And of course the golden coach and the horse are being fed and constructed as we speak.”

• Cinderella will be on stage at the Earl Cameron Theatre from December 7 to 16. Tickets, $40, go on sale tomorrow at www.ptix.bm

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Published November 17, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated November 18, 2023 at 8:11 am)

Ugly stepsisters, a prince and iPads: a modern take on a classic tale

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