'He is a celebrated actor, director, comedian, quizmaster, novelist, documentary-maker, conservationist, ex-jailbird and all-round good egg, but until yesterday there was a curious gap in Stephen Fry’s formidable professional CV: pantomime.
Not any more. Kevin Spacey, the artistic director of the Old Vic confirmed that Fry has written a “naughty” but family-friendly Cinderella for his theatre this Christmas.
It is the quintessentially British, innuendo-loving Fry’s first stab at the quintessentially British, innuendo-laden format since his Cambridge University days, when he co-wrote the Footlights pantomime with Hugh Laurie.
He said that he had rejoiced in the opportunity to embrace the “transcendently peculiar form of pantomime”.
“Citizens of other nations look on with wonder, pity, contempt envy or disgust according to temperament. It is one of many British things that foreigners just don’t get.
“Never mind. I’ve delivered a script for Cinderella which I hope ticks all the necessary panto boxes: transformation scene, community song, unspeakable jokes along with songs, slapstick, rewards for the good and punishment for the wicked.
“Being Cinderella there are naturally Ugly Sisters, a Fairy Godmother a Prince Charming, a Dandini and a Buttons. No Baron Hardup or Brokers Men, which might disappoint some hard-line traditionalists, but damn it, surely I can be allowed some leeway.”
Fry’s most famous theatrical moment came as an actor in 1995 when he walked out on a production of Cell Mates only a few days into its West End run and fled to Belgium.
He has a more successful record as a dramatist. Latin, his first play, won a Fringe First award at the Edinburgh Festival in 1980 and his adaptation of the musical Me and My Girl made him a millionaire in his twenties.
Pantomime, however, presented a particular challenge, because it provides the first experience that most Britons have of the theatre, he said.
“I’ve tried to remember that for many of the children who come it will be their first Cinderella, their first pantomime and their first visit to a theatre, and that for many adults it will be their first return to pantomime since their own childhoods.
“Pantomime should be the beginning of a never-ending love affair with theatre. Oh yes it should. It may sound wearyingly like an attempt to be cool, hip and relevant to say that pantomime is interactive, but as something of a computer and gadget geek, I’ve yet to find any gizmo from the digital age that can match pantomime for genuine interactivity.
“ ‘Look behind you’ and ‘Oh no it isn’t’ still can’t be beat for getting a child involved – not by a wilderness of Wiis and Playstations.”
Speaking from New York, Spacey said that he had signed Fry over breakfast in the Savoy Hotel last year. “I think it was in the back of his mind but no one had ever asked him before. We were lucky because we got him first. I happen to think he’s a genius.” He also promised that Cinderella would maintain a risqué tone. “Part of the tradition is that it is naughty and I can tell you that Stephen’s is naughty. In particular the lyrics to some of the songs are just outrageous.” '
Just incase anyone wanted to know