Christmas has been a bit of rush for everyone this year and Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts, has made Happy Ever After, a very special COVID-secure festive family show, in little more than two months when a traditional panto would take more than a year. 

It’s a charming story written and directed by CBeebies’ Chris Jarvis who appears as Buttons to introduce a host of favourite pantomime and children’s storybook characters who come together to help Cinderella get to her next ball. 

But when the star of the show is running late how is she going to get there? 

By bus, of course… and Lighthouse has again partnered with Morebus, but because a real bus won’t fit on the stage the community-minded bus operator has designed a scale model that can be built. 

Which is exactly what Charlie Camm and his team of ‘elves’ (actually, highly skilled theatrical set builders) at Scenetec have been doing at their workshop on the edge of Higher Woodsford, near Dorchester. 

“The job for Lighthouse came out of the blue and was our first theatrical work since lockdown in March,” says Charlie, who founded Scenetec with his wife Helen some 25 years ago.  

“We worked on the Concert Hall stage extension at Lighthouse that meant Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra could properly social distance for their live streamed concerts and just as we were wondering what would be next I got a call from James Smith the lighting designer who is co-producing Happy Ever After with Chris and Lighthouse, to say he needed a bus. And quickly!” 

Scenetec had worked with James before on the Light Up Poole festival of digital light art and also for London Children’s Ballet. The company’s track record has included Disney’s Beauty and the Beast world tour, National Theatre, British Library and Shakespeare’s Globe, as well as exhibitions work for companies including Jimmy Choo and LUSH Cosmetics. 

Locally, the company has worked with Dorset Opera, the Tank Museum and the Inside Out Dorset festival of outdoor arts. 

“I like to keep things local if I can because it feels right and we work as sustainably as possible – for instance all our plywood comes from Spanish Poplar. It’s really nice to work with and it hasn’t come out of a rainforest, but although it can be twice the price the pay off is worth it to us.” 

Charlie trained at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art at Shelley Park, then Chelsea School of Art before following a circuitous career path encompassing church restoration, boat building, office work, tractor driving, scene dressing, set building, stage management and architectural model making. By the mid-1990s he was looking for someone to build his set designs and decided he could do it himself, which is how Scenetec came to be. 

“And until this year we’d been pretty busy ever since,” he says with a roll of the eyes. “What I love is finding creative solutions to people’s problems within the constraints of time, budget, logistics or technology. The bus for Lighthouse had to be able to be packed flat and fit inside a long wheelbase van, so it’s a maximum of 4.5 metres and as light as possible so the cast can move it across the stage. When it’s painted up and with James’s lighting it will look incredible – like having a real bus on stage without actually having a real bus on stage.” 

Morebus’ Joe Quinlan adds: “We’ve had a wonderful time working with Lighthouse to bring one of our buses to the stage! Obviously, it would have been tricky to get one our full-size vehicles inside but, thanks to Scenetec and their industrious Christmas elves, Cinderella will be able to travel in style with Morebus to the ball.    

“This year’s show has been a fantastic effort from all those involved and, as a fully committed member of the local community, we’re looking forward to helping bring some much-needed festive cheer to Poole this Christmas.” 

:: Happy Ever After stars CBeebies’ Chris Jarvis with CBBC presenters Naomi Wilkinson and Ed Petrie and opens on Friday6 18 December at Lighthouse, Poole’s centre for the arts. It runs until Sunday 3 January 2021. 

Published 15 December 2020