YORK freelance choreographer and movement director Hayley Del Harrison’s creativity can be seen at the double this festive season.
Not only has she choreographed York Theatre Royal and Evolution Productions’ effervescent pantomime Cinderella, up and running until January 2, but also CBeebies Presents: The Night Before Christmas.
Already this CBeebies Christmas show has made its cinema debut on November 28, and the TV launch on the Beeb will come rather sooner than the night before Christmas: Saturday, December 11 to be precise.
This is her second CBeebies project of the year, having worked with York Theatre Royal creative director (and Cinderella director) Juliet Forster on CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet, filmed at Leeds Playhouse.
More on the Theatre Royal pantomime later, but first, Hayley, 50, recalls working on the CBeebies Christmas show from late-September through to October 10 in Plymouth, working under pandemic constraints that meant the company had to be put up in a hotel in social bubbles.
“We had the whole of the Plymouth Theatre Royal building to ourselves and the TR2 rehearsal room too,” she says.
“No-one else was allowed into the space because we knew the risk was too great. We had only that short window to rehearse it, a short window to film it, and that’s why we were so strict.
“We did it all in two weeks; the first week in the rehearsal space, and then in the second week we moved into the theatre, we teched it, and did two shows to invited audiences of schoolchildren and one without one for the couple of days of filming.”
Hayley worked with director Chris Jarvis, a “CBeebies legend” with a theatre background, who had played Lord Montague in Forster’s CBeebies Presents: Romeo And Juliet and has 25 years’ experience of directing, producing, writing and performing in pantomimes. This winter he is playing the dame, Betty Bonbon, in Beauty And The Beast at Poole’s Lighthouse, in Dorset.
Again the creative process was influenced by Covid strictures. “I got the songs [by Banks and Wag] and script in advance, and with everyone being so far away, we had the readthrough online, chats online with Chris Banks and a long Zoom meeting with Chris Jarvis about where my input would be, and I remember at one point jumping to my feet and saying, ‘I’m thinking of doing this’!” says Hayley.
“As the show is for young children, a lot of the choreography is designed so that they can copy it. It’s big on storytelling and simple to replicate because, once the show is on BBC iPlayer, they can watch it over and over again. These CBeebies shows are big on participation.”
Hayley worked with a CBeebies cast of 16. “I’d worked with eight of them before on Romeo And Juliet. It’s different from a theatre pantomime because it’s not like you have an ensemble,” she says.
“Everyone has their role, their unique selling point and their chance to shine, but they’re also brilliant at what they do whether as presenters or actors. it’s been nice to get to know them over the two projects, getting an understanding of how they work and then wrapping the show around their characters to present Clement Clarke Moore’s beautiful poem.
“You’re working with characters who are much loved, so, for example, the character playing the villain has to be silly, rather than frightening, because it’s a show for two to six year olds. It means you have to be very careful; everything is more gentle but really funny.”
Looking back on her two CBeebies’ shows in 2021, Hayley says: “I feel I’ve built up a really good relationship and would love to do more of this work. Fingers crossed.
“It already feels like being part of a family, similar to working at the Theatre Royal. When it feels right, it feels really collaborative and there’s a mutual understanding. I know how they work and they know how I work.”
York-born Hayley’s focus then switched to Cinderella, working once more for York Theatre Royal after last year’s Travelling Pantomime (directed by Forster) and such previous productions as The Storm Whale and A View From The Bridge in 2019, For The Fallen in 2018 and In Fog And Falling Snow at the National Railway Museum in 2015.
She received Paul Hendy’s script in October, when most of the music was signed off by musical supervisor James Harrison by the end of that month. “For this kind of show, the more information I have up front, the better I do my job,” says Hayley.
“I can start getting my head around it, though I do like creating in the room too. I’m up for being flexible, but I like to have a clear vision, and that’s what’s great about working with Juliet.
“Yes, she likes being creative in the rehearsal room but her vision is always clear, and because it’s clear, it gives me freedom. I understand where she’s coming from, and she trusts me.”
For Cinderella, Hayley has worked with the seven principals, a six-strong ensemble and two aerial artists, Connor and Tiffany of Duo Fusion, who take part in some of the dancing too.
“We did the auditions for the ensemble just before I went off to Plymouth, and I’ve been delighted to find such versatile performers,” she says.
“They have to do three separate dance styles: lyrical pieces; fun, comedic, highly technical jazz and tap, and work with the text.
“ I wanted everyone to bring something different to the table to ensure there were different characters within the ensemble, and we’re really happy with them. It’s not, ‘here come the dancers’; they’re very much part of the story.”
Cinderella runs at York Theatre Royal until January 2 2022. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk. CBeebies Presents: The Night Before Christmas premieres on December 11 and will then be available on BBC iPlayer.