As part of our Moving it On development project, aiming to adapt our work for a blended digital and in-person audience, our team created a new shadow puppetry show, Shen: A Chinese Cinderella Story.

The production was specifically designed to be recorded, so school groups can watch it in their classrooms anytime.

The show is based on the traditional Chinese version of the Cinderella story which we have included below.

Visit Elm Hill to see a display of the shadow puppets from the show.

If you are interested in working with the Theatre, please get in touch with our team.

The Story

Long ago during the Tang dynasty there lived a wise and kind chief. As was the custom the chief had two wives who each had a daughter. 


Sadly one day one of the wives died, leaving her daughter Shen without a mother. 

Not long after the chief himself passed away. Leaving his one remaining wife and the chief’s two daughters. 


Shen was not treated with the same love and care as her sister. Her stepmother would make her do all of cooking and cleaning. Fearful and jealous of her sweet nature, Shen’s stepmother and sister belittled her and gave her only scraps of food to eat. 


Shen had only one friend in the whole world. A beautiful fish. 

Each day Shen would walk down to the river, and the two friends would talk and laugh together. Shen would share the little food she had with her friend and over time the fish grew and grew to an enormous size. 


Each day the stepmother became more and more enraged as she saw Shen return from the river full of happiness and joy. 


Determined to put an end to this gaiety and inflict only misery on Shen, the stepmother came up with a plan. 


One day she sent Shen away on an errand. Wearing Shen’s old tattered coat, the stepmother approached the river. The fish appeared thinking that the visitor was his friend Shen. Immediately the stepmother began her attack, she fought with the fish grabbing and grappling with it. Eventually she got the best grip and gobbled it up leaving only a pile of bones behind. 


Later that day Shen returned to find the bones of her friend on the river bank. As she sobbed her tears fell into the water. 


She felt as if her heart might break from the sadness. So overcome with grief, Shen hadn’t noticed the old man who now stood beside her. He spoke with a soft and gentle voice, 


“How sad to see you cry little one. Do not be sad, your friend was a magic fish whose magic will not die. These bones will grant any wish you desire but choose your wishes wisely and do not waste this gift.” 


Shen stared in wonder at the pile of bones and when she looked up, the old man had gone.  


Gently gathering up the bones she hurried back to the house and hid them in a safe place.  

Weeks past and Shen cared for the fishbones only wishing for food as a last resort. 


Spring had arrive and it was finally festival time. The streets were lined with paper lanterns the hum of excitement hung in the air as people prepared for the celebrations. 


Shen’s stepmother and sister flapped about the house calling out demands as Shen dressed them in their finest clothes. 


“Comb my hair!” 

“Wash my feet!” 

“Iron my clothes!” 

“Polish my shoes!” 

“I want my cape!” 


They didn’t give Shen a passing thought and never even considered that she might want to come. 


“Come on hurry up, we are going to be late!” 

“Let’s get going.” 


They bustled out of the door leaving Shen alone. 


Shen sat by the pile of bones and quietly sobbed, “Oh how I wish I could go to the spring festival. But how can I in this old ragged coat?” 


There was a loud “GONG” sound and the bones quivered as the fish’s magic cast its spell.  


Shen gasped in amazement when she saw her clothes transformed. Her cap was made of kingfisher feathers and her shoes shone like gold. 


She ran as fast as kingfisher in flight to join in the festival celebrations. 

All of the people stopped to admire Shen as she floated through the streets. The joy and wonder she felt spread to all who saw her until, suddenly, Shen caught sight of her sister  and stepmother in the crowd. Shen’s sister had caught sight of her too,  

“Mum! That girl looks just like Shen.” 

“Shen?” snapped back the mother, “No it couldn’t possibly be… could it?” 


Shen panicked, she didn’t wait to hear the reply and ran home as fast as she could. On the way, she lost one of her golden shoes. 


When she got home, Shen hid her cap and the remaining golden shoe.  


But the lost golden shoe was found lying in the street. It was given to a merchant, who sold it to a cobbler, who passed it to his brother, who handed to a friend, who gave it to a king. 


The king was determined to find the rightful owner of the shoe. He decide to place it in a pavilion near to where it had been found in the hope that the owner would come forward. 


People came from miles around to try it on but the shoe, which was dainty and small, did not fit anyone. 


Shen heard about the shoe and waited until nightfall. She crept into the pavilion and took the shoe. The king who had been watching followed her home. Unsure if she was the true owner of the shoe or a thief in the night. 

The king arrived at Shen’s house and knocked on the door. 


“Go away! Don’t you know what time it is? We don’t want to see any travelling salesmen, we have been trying on shoes all day and I’ve got sore toes. Shen – answer that door.” 


She gasped as she opened the door. 


The king, in a kind voice, asked Shen to try on the shoes. Shen gathered both shoes and off course they fitted perfectly. The fish’s magic was cast once more and Shen found herself dressed in her cape of kingfisher feathers. 


The king and Shen fell in love and lived happily ever after. 


You may wonder what happened to Shen’s stepmother and sister… they came to a nasty end living out the rest of their days in misery. 


If only they had been kinder to her, they could have lived at the palace and lived a happier life. 


As for the magic fish bones… well that’s a story for another day. 

Want to know more about how to create your own shadow puppetry? Check out our blog post Tips from a Puppeteer. Or check out our free how-to videos.

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