On first glance, Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber and Malala Yousafzai aren’t natural collaborators.
One is an EGOT-winning musical theatre writer, while the other is a Nobel prize-winning women’s education advocate who was shot at by the Taliban for daring to go to school in Afghanistan.
But Lord Lloyd Webber has decided to throw his weight behind Yousafzai’s cause, by holding a gala night of his latest show, Cinderella, saying that the refugee crisis is one that concerns him greatly.
“I’ve always been incredibly impressed by the work she’s been doing for refugees,” Lord Lloyd Webber told Sky News.
“And I felt the Afghan issue was a really, really pivotal moment for me anyway, because I thought all of those girls… what would they be thinking right now with everything taken away from them?
“So, I contacted Malala and I said, ‘do you think this is a moment? We could do something together?'”
He also told Sky News that the country should “find a way to help” those displaced by violence in the likes of Afghanistan and Syria, despite saying the UK is “overcrowded” in some respects.
“What we’ve got to think at the moment is, in the end, everybody’s a human being.”
Cinderella is the perfect show to raise money for a women’s rights charity, with Emerald Fennell’s re-imagined story’s titular character (a role shared by West End stars Carrie Hope Fletcher and Georgina Onuorah), now a rebellious town pariah who pines for a better life away from the fairy-tale world.
Lord Lloyd Webber said: “Malala’s a wonderful free spirit herself… and Emerald Fennell’s Cinderella is a free spirit, and I tried to write music for it, and it’s a fun, joyous show. So hopefully this is not going to be a serious, heavy evening.”
It’s been a busy 12 months for Lord Lloyd Webber – opening a brand new, multi-million pound musical during a global pandemic, alongside his other shows in London, on tour and on Broadway.
During the summer, he opened Cinderella for a preview run (where a show is open to the public, but is not the finished product), before promptly closing it down on the day it was due to premiere after the so-called “pingdemic” forced his cast into quarantine – despite the relaxing of legal restrictions.
It triggered a global conversation about the use of masks, COVID passports and virus testing in theatres, with the impresario at one point warning the government he was willing to go to jail if it means he could open his show.
“I was completely serious about it, except that there was one big caveat that I didn’t realise when I said that this is something we should do, which is that every member of the audience could have been fined for coming to the theatre,” he told Sky News.
“I’m up for being arrested, but it’s hardly where one intended to be.
“I mean, I’m a composer – I write music and I want to get on and write my next piece – but I found myself in a rather strange situation where I seem to be speaking for the theatre community.”
But many shows continue to take the pandemic seriously, and new musicals like Moulin Rouge and Cabaret have made masks and negative lateral flow tests mandatory for its visitors as part of their terms of booking.
“If it gets to that point, I would advocate it,” Lord Lloyd Webber said when asked why he wouldn’t enforce it in his theatres.
“I think if the rates do really get much higher, then one has to be responsible, of course. I mean, nobody wants to see that situation where it returns to what it was.
“I’m confident we can continue and that there’s no reason why we shouldn’t.”
And what of the new Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries? Lord Lloyd Webber was in contact with her predecessor Oliver Dowden over getting his shows on to the stage, with Mr Dowden even publicly pledging government support to him.
“I’m waiting for her phone call. She’s been there for a while and I ain’t heard nothing from her.
“Maybe she doesn’t like my stuff.”
Cinderella is playing now at the Gillian Lynne Theatre in London.