Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Day Four. A4.

I'm pleased to say that I was awoken this morning by the gentle tinkle of my iPhone rather than the shriek of a fire alarm. I walked up to the school from our lodging house and had a hearty breakfast in the great hall. Sevenoaks School is a classic example of how the other half live - or rather how the other half are schooled. The facilities are remarkable. There are multiple theatres, scores of practice rooms and a blinkin' Gamelan! How many schools can boast a complete set of Javanese Gamelan instruments?! The inverted snob in me would cheerfully burn the place down, but I realise that this reaction is largely based on envy. My own school - a Northamptonshire comprehensive - had a single music practice room, known, rather unimpressively as “A4.” The A stood for administration. I used to get sent there during music lessons because my presence in the classroom was deemed "too destructive." I’m actually eternally grateful to the teacher who used to send me there, because she encouraged me to play the piano whilst I waited. There was always a pile of music in the corner which had been copied on a carbon bander machine (an ancient form of photocopier which gave you the choice of pink or purple lettering.) This particular teacher played the piano by improvising around chord symbols and she showed me the basic configuration of a major and a minor chord. I figured the rest out along the way and managed to become a pianist without a lesson. That poor teacher woman never got much from me in return, however. She was a dark-skinned creature, with quite a lot of freckles and moles, and very brown curly hair. I remember one particular winter's day when she entered the classroom with a big dollop of snow still on her head. "Miss, you look like a Christmas pudding..." I said. Out I went to the practice room again. Ah! Those were the days.

Today, I sat in our rehearsal room and watched the wonderful Matt Flint choreographing Billy Whistle, one of the songs from our show. He’s remarkably inventive and seems to have the ability to make anyone look like Fred Astaire. The lads responded incredibly well to him, and created something which was deeply moving and incredibly exciting. I flitted next door and found Sara Kestelman working with the rest of the cast on book scenes. The joy about Brass is that the male and female ensembles very rarely meet, so it’s possible to run two full rehearsals separately, which effectively doubles the potential output of a day.

There is some genuinely fabulous work going on. Most of the cast are developing really strong and robust characters, and they continue to retain an almost obscene amount of information in their young brains. The female ensemble are more unified in their sound than most West End choruses.

The upshot of all this is that I’ve decided to take a couple of days away from the mayhem. It’ll be good for me to have a few lie-ins, a few nights in a bed with a pillow that doesn’t condense like a sponge, and more crucially, a bit of time with my dear husband. I realised how devastatingly tired I was when I reached London and sat down in a cafe. I paid the man for my cup of tea and as he handed me the change, I smiled sweetly, and instead of saying thank you, I said a hugely cheery “hello”, like I was starting the transaction all over again. He looked at me like I'd gone completely insane, which, of course, I have.

Anyway, the up-side to being in London was that I got the opportunity to go to the press night of my dear friend Jim’s production of Therese Raquin. I did this with a tiny bit of trepidation as the production manager of Brass recently had a rather nasty accident in the theatre where the show was being performed.

But what a wonderful show. Psychological. Unnerving. Daring. Sexual. Wistful. Adult. Claustrophobic. Thought-provoking. Atmospheric. Like the love child of Tori Amos and Albert Camus. Craig Adams’ score was a thing of great maturity and beauty. The entire piece was more chamber opera than musical; scored for piano and string quartet. But this wasn’t twee music. It was charging. Rolling. Subtle.  A lot of open fifths with very subtle dissonances in the extremities - beautifully performed by an excellent cast and a string quartet of recent graduates from the Royal Academy. Good string writing. Brilliant vocal arrangements. If you like scrunchy chords, get down to the Finsbury Park Theatre, lie back and simply let them wash over you. Bravo Jim and double bravo Craig.

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