Friday, 12 February 2016

Interview

Days are lasting for years at the moment. We're so knackered that we ended up on the wrong branch of the Northern Line, and then, on our way back to the right station, we almost forgot to get off the train again. Earlier in the day, whilst heading to Elephant and Castle, I got off at the wrong stop, and had exited the tube at Kennington before I realised the errors of my ways! Gah!

Elephant and Castle is a horrible place. I've never really spent any time in that particular shit hole before and today I realised why. The whole district is a bewildering mass of market stalls, dangerous concrete underpasses and grotty-looking shops and garages stuffed into railway arches in the middle of a giant roundabout. Trying to get anywhere from any of the exits is almost impossible. It's difficult to even leave the station. There's only one lift. I queued for ages...

I was in Elephant and Castle to meet the lovely theatre critic Mark Shenton at the Southwark Playhouse. He was interviewing me, one assumes, for an article in the stage. I really like him. He is the only British theatre critic who truly gets and actually reveres musical theatre. His opinion really counts. He is the reason why Brass won the UK Theatre award and he is a huge supporter of my work. I hope he likes Beyond The Fence.

I was keen to speak to him so that he could get a real sense of our project: its genesis, its goals, and the nitty gritty of how what is seen on the stage has been created. I think many critics will instantly want to slate the piece. The computer angle will mean they'll almost certainly put everything good that they see down to a talented cast, and look for every flaw they can possibly find to blame on computers. I'm resigned to that as an idea, but I'm really pleased that Shenton will be able to judge the show from the perspective of inside knowledge... It was a pleasure talking to him because the questions he was asking demonstrated his true understanding of the form of musical theatre. "How on earth did they expect you to marry computer-inspired lyrics to computer-generated melodies?" He asked. "Thank you" I said, "you're the first person to realise the enormity of that particular problem..." He got it. Entirely.

Whilst I was being interviewed, the cast were running the show back in Pimlico. Act 1 is now a lot tighter. It's a full three minutes shorter, which is a relief because the running time of the show needs to be no more than 2 hours for television purposes.

This evening we were back in King's Cross for another band call. I managed twenty minutes on my own in a silent studio, sitting on a sofa whilst eating a sandwich. It was blissful. It was the first moment of calmness I've had on this project. I have delivered all the material and there's nothing more to do now other than watching other people doing their jobs.

I can finally start to focus on myself. What do I now need? Can I go back to the osteopath and sort out my back? Can I go back to the gym and lose the two stone in weight I've put on in the last four months! Do I need a holiday? The answer to all questions is yes.

Directing traffic

We've just spent the last thirty minutes directing traffic on the Archway Road. Half the road has been dug up and the temporary lights at the cross roads outside our house have broken. We exited the tube to a scene of absolute carnage. There was a massive traffic jam and everyone was beeping their horns. The scene suddenly started to get really dangerous and we witnessed three or so near head-on collisions. We called the police. They told us the problem had been reported by many people and that they were trying to get "someone down." A couple of near crashes later, Nathan and I were on the phone to each other from different ends of the street, managing the traffic and risking our lives in the process. People in these instances can be absolute bastards. I'd rush out into the road, stop a car, tell Nathan he could let his stream of traffic go, and then some impatient dick splat behind the car I'd stopped would pull out and screech off whilst I screamed down the phone to Nathan that he needed to stop his traffic again.

It was exhilarating and terrifying. We were shouting at passers by to call the police and explain to them that members of the public were trying to prevent traffic mayhem... We were, however, very successful and kept the traffic moving well for at least half an hour.

Eventually two utterly hapless coppers arrived. They passively watched on as we continued to stop the traffic and spent some time trying to work out who was responsible for the lights. Eventually I asked them if they might relieve Nathan from his duties at the other end of the road. "Lights go down in London all the time. We don't ask members of the public to risk their lives trying to be heroes." With that, he wandered off, and I wondered why I'd bothered.

It's been a long old day, which started in Pimlico under headphones. I finished my last arrangement at 2pm, just after doing a live interview on Radio Northampton about the importance of the arts and before the cast did their first full run of the show.

The run was great. The show really hangs together and was in much better shape than I'd expected. Luke and Candida have done some wonderful staging.

At some point in the morning we had a bit of fun. We have been banned from using three typically 1980s politically incorrect terms in the show which the documentary programme makers consider offensive by today's standards. For the record those three words are flid, spaz and spastic. I took to Facebook to find less offensive alternatives and was besieged by wonderful suggestions which took everyone reading right back to the good old days of our childhood:

Benny, Spanner, Mecon, Spam, Prannie, Boff, Tube, Twonk, Dipstick,
Wally, Tool, Toss pot... The phase itchy chin seemed to excite a lot of people!

I got the actress who utters the insults in the show to read out the list of alternatives to the rest of the cast to see which ones generated the most laughter. The winners were: Der-brain, Plank and Slap Head.

We rushed from Pimlico to King's Cross to rehearse the band in an exhausting and gruelling session. God there's a lot to do... And a lot of notes to polish before our sitz probe on Saturday.

And here we are in front of Ru Paul, falling asleep...

Night night.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

One more

It's been quite a harsh day today. I've been in the kitchen at the rehearsal space orchestrating music underneath a pair of headphones all day whilst the cast rehearse in various rooms around me. With a random theatre in education show also being rehearsed in the same building, there's a hell of a lot of music mooching around the corridors. At one point, two of the songs I could hear were in the same key. It was the strangest mash-up I've ever heard. We were rehearsing the campest number in our show - all Disney harmonies and things - and the TIE company were working on a version of that song which goes "so call me maybe..." You know the one? It's probably by Taylor Swift. It has an annoying string sample in it with a load of fake violins playing an octave downward scale in a mili-second. Sometimes I worry about string samples. As my mate Fiona said, "everyone now thinks pizzicato strings sound like the nonsense music on Bake Off." And it's true. Very soon people will start being disappointed with the real thing because real players can't play the same things as midi can! Ahh.

It's 3am. I've just finished for the night. I have one more song to orchestrate. One more! And then I'm free. I can go jogging. I can wash the dishes. I can clear away the bucket in the middle of the sitting room floor and invite friends and relatives to see the show!

Nathan is still working. He says his brain has stopped working. We need to sleep.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Band call!

We had our first band call today, and it was a hugely exhilarating experience. The band is sensational. The work is scored for two keyboard players, drums and percussion, guitar, bass and cello - and every player is being kept really really busy. I've worked with two of them before, both of whom played on my Requiem. Obviously I'm keeping a discerning, avuncular eye on the 'cellist, Dom, who is doing a fantastic job. He's a brilliant player with a fabulous tone. I have written a deliberately exhausting and somewhat fiery part for him to play. I kept glancing over and seeing his face getting redder and his brow getting sweatier. He'll certainly lose a few pounds playing all those notes eight shows a week!

We're rehearsing in the "Green Plus" room in a set of studios in King's Cross, which feels like a good omen for a show set at Green Gate, Greenham Common. We're in the very room where I rehearsed two years ago with the great Roy Harper who has, I'm thrilled to report, recently been found entirely innocent of the ludicrous crimes he was accused of committing. He's a good, kind man. I was vociferous in my support of him when the accusations were made and feel it's really important that his innocence is as widely reported as the initial allegations.

Our MD, Candida, is leading the troops ably. There's much work to be done but I'm excited to think where we'll end up. We still have three arrangements to finish off. I wish I could relax for a few days but there's no rest for the wicked.

We left the main rehearsals in Pimlico at lunchtime. I was downstairs in the kitchen under a pair of headphones throughout the morning, but Nathan, who was formatting parts in the main space, tells me everything was looking amazing.


Our lead actress, C,J bust a rib practising a fight sequence yesterday. She was back in rehearsals two hours later after trip to A and E. Now that's what I call commitment to the cause. And there was me going home yesterday for a massive whinge fest! (Apologies for that!)

They're rehearsing some sort of theatre in education show in the same building as us, which sounds like a show I'd love to miss. All I can hear is a group of people singing songs by One Direction to terrible backing tracks. At one stage I thought it was our cast singing along to their physical warm up music and got very surprised that they all knew the words! I guess it's work for the performers, but surely there comes a time when you have to wonder why you went to drama school!

We got home and suddenly realised it was pancake day, so rushed to the shops to buy some lemon before knocking up a couple. Nathan's was, as you might expect, perfect. Mine looked like an old duster.

Eyes closing

I always know when I'm too tired to work. There comes a point when the ears start playing tricks and, in my case at least, everything starts to sound really bassy and mushy. It happened to me for the first time whilst mixing Brass sometime during the all-nighter that PK and I did. I've just spent the last two hours thinning out an orchestration because every time I listened to it, it sounded more muffled.

My voice is giving up the ghost as well. It sounds all crusty and weird. Again, a product of sheer exhaustion!

It's midnight, and Nathan is slowly losing his mind in the kitchen. Unfortunately a music copyist hasn't been engaged on this show, so Nathan has stepped into the breach for no extra money. It's a massive task, particularly as he's not hugely au fait with my music software programme. Right now we, as writers, should have the head space to be able to make changes to the script and tiny alterations to the music. Sadly, we're sitting in rehearsals formatting music parts and creating tailor-made scores, whilst getting increasingly panicky and exhausted. I have to say, when I read in the press that we're responsible for the "lyrics only" on this show, I really want to hack a random hack to death with a tuning fork! There would appear to be a basic lack of understanding of music demonstrated by the way that a lot of people are talking about our role in this project. If anyone dares to suggest the orchestrations had anything at all to do with a computer I will set fire to my favourite teddy bear!

The sky was an extraordinary shade of pigeon grey this morning. The sun was out, so the whole thing seemed to be glowing somehow, like the sky had been touched up by an online editor. It's been very windy for the last few days. At lunchtime on Saturday, I was attacked by a giant cardboard box bouncing its way down the street. It hit me in the face. I laughed. It didn't hurt. But then I thought about my mate Nic who was hit in similar circumstances by a flying neon sign. She still has a scar, and was apparently lucky not to have been killed.

The local Gregg's to our rehearsal rooms has an "eat in" price for every item it sells, despite being the shop being the size of a postage stamp and not having so much as a seat or counter where one could theoretically sit down. What's that about? I assume it's a fast food tax thing?

Monday, 8 February 2016

Pamela

At 10.40pm this evening, just as I'd decided to take a break from an entire day sitting at the kitchen table orchestrating music, just as I'd sat down to watch an episode of Ru Paul with a plate of rice and vegetables, an entire river of water burst through the middle of the ceiling in our sitting room. It then started pouring down the walls. We ran into the loft and found that it was also flooding through one of the windows up there. It was like a scene from the Poseidon Adventure. I was Shelly Winters. Nathan was Pamela Sue Martin. Typical. You spend a day busting a gut and award yourself an hour off, and spend it mopping water off the floor, and trying to rescue possessions which are in the line of fire. Or, more specifically, in the line of flood...

It wasn't the nicest thing to happen, especially as I have another two hours of work to do before I can go to bed, but I suppose worse things happen at sea. And in Chelmsford...

There's nothing else to report. I've worked solidly since 9am. I make that sixteen hours under headphones! No wonder my tinnitus has returned.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Abbopoly

It's been another long old day which started with a car journey down to Pimlico with Llio and Nathan. They were heading to rehearsals for Beyond the Fence and I was booked in to run NYMT auditions at Westminster Under School less than half a mile away. It was funny to think of the two sessions running simultaneously.

We met some great kids. As usual. I was running the singing sessions. I don't really have any filters when I'm in these sorts of situations and tend to say some pretty outrageous things to the auditionees. I hope they have fun, however, and that they learn from my bizarre ramblings. We finished one session a little early and were able to run a Q and A, which I was pleased the young people really used to ask questions about the industry, largely about auditioning.

The only former Brasser in today was Laura, who was our original lead actress, Eliza. She sang I Make the Shells, which was fabulous to hear. It's funny: when someone sings a song from the actual show they're auditioning for, it's quite hard to think of anything to ask them to do again differently, so we simply sat back and enjoyed the experience. Poor Charlie the pianist got his knickers in a twist having to sight read the song in front of its composer. I didn't help matters by stopping him twice: once to slow him down and once to correct a mis-read accidental! He's a brilliant pianist, though. I was watching him today and marvelling. He plays really loudly which really gees up the singers.

We went from Pimlico to North London for an evening playing ABBA Monopoly with, of all people, Stef from the alternative rock band Placebo. Stef, like the left-field psycho-balladeer John Grant, is an unlikely fan of the Super Swedes and we owe the evening to a chance conversation we had when I lent him my cello for a gig where I told him my friend Jim Zalles had sent me details of a version of Monopoly with ABBA songs instead of street names. Stef instantly went out and ordered it, and the invitation to play it came a couple of weeks later.

We had a blast and met some wonderful people many of whom had seen our wedding which was rather lovely. It's actually the first time I've ever finished a game of Monopoly, and, quite rightly, Stef and his partner won, although, at one stage, it looked like we had the game in the bag. It's amazing how quickly fortunes can change in that game!

It's been quite refreshing to have a full day off from Beyond The Fence but we will have to work very hard tomorrow to compensate. Band rehearsals start on Tuesday, and there's still a bewildering amount to do!