London Road to Juniper Street

It’s been a long few days writing songs for my musical theatre work. I’m starting to get a sense of it’s bigger shape but there is still some way to go. Initially I was fearful of what musical language I might use and I craved some kind of model for the work I would write. Another concern was that I wrote something commensurate with my own musical rhetoric but that at the same time would be realised well by the girls performing it. Of course I do not want to think because I am writing for young performers it should in any way be ‘simplistic’ or some kind of compromise.

London Road is the most recent musical I have seen and it was incredibly inspiring. I had never seen verbatim theatre or even a musical that attempted to capture the inflections of natural speech in the melodic lines. I think such an approach fitted the nature of the work with real skill; it demonstrated the sophistication of Adam Cork’s musicianship in how he created his music from recorded interviews. It was really moving and somehow the naturalism of the book and music created something authentic – perhaps move moving than music than it is beyond reality. Friends and colleagues were critical of its emphasis on the community over the individual but I rather found this more suitable. I found the music incredibly moving particular the material when a resident was contemplating being kept awake at night. Some of the repetitions were a little too much for me and perhaps like the recent Double Feature play I saw – it felt like it finished sooner than it did. Endings are rather tricky and I can see that it remains a challenge for some works to end convincingly. Overall I found it completely engaging – except for the lengthy close – and the cast were brilliant. I can imagine this verbatim-musical theatre approach might not suit all subject matters and could indeed lose its currency if adopted too much. I would love to work in a similar way and hope perhaps an opportunity might arise in the future to do so.

My own musical theatre work – working with my colleague Deborah Gibbs – is in no way verbatim or attempting to capture the inflections of everyday speech. I long for the songs to be memorable and hope that there will be something the audience will remember as they leave. I’m writing in a more ‘tonal’ vocabulary and I do feel rather vulnerable in such a language; vulnerable and exposed. Dominic Muldowney’s term ‘nodality’ – something we discussed when I was lucky enough to have a session with him recently – seems more fitting to the music I am writing – where certain pitch ‘nodes’ dominate. I’m not exploiting particular keys for expressive potential but no doubt there may be some transposition happening once rehearsals commence in September.

I’m rather excited that it is my first large-scale work for young people and even more so that it will be performed this autumn. The rehearsal process will be interesting and perhaps more so in that I can change the material being my own. I hope I’ll learn quite a bit from the experience. I ultimately hope it will be something I look back on fondly too. Back to the songs…


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