Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Beaming

It's been a remarkable day in a most unexpected way.

We woke up and immediately walked the length of Parkland Walk from Highgate to Finsbury Park. The walkway is such a wonderful resource for North Londoners. I've written about it many times, but for those who aren't familiar with its charms, the walk follows the route of an old railway line which, I believe, was initially designed to link the Northern Line with the Piccadilly Line. It closed in the early part of the 20th Century and has subsequently been reclaimed by nature.

It's been a very warm, spring-like day, a little rainy, but intermittently sunny, so the walk was filled with birds bathing in puddles, which was a rather lovely sight.

The purpose of the trip to Finsbury Park was to gate crash BEAM, a brilliant festival for new musical theatre writers. I think I was the only British composer who wasn't officially involved. I've only just joined the right organisations to hear about these sorts of initiatives but wish I'd known about it, because it only happens every two years! I'll be ancient by the time it comes around again. I knew almost everyone there from producers like Julie Clare and Christmas Jim and my publisher at R and N to every British composer I've ever met: Eammon, Jake and Pippa, Dougal, Chris Ash, and Zara Nunn (whom I was at musical school with back in the day...)

Each composer had a fifteen minute slot to pitch either themselves or a new show. Four of the actors from Beyond The Fence were involved, two of whom performed in, what I feel, was the stand out showcase of the day, namely Chris Ash's "rockumentary" about the Brontë sisters. No, it shouldn't have worked. But yes, it was brilliant. BRILLIANT. In fact, the music was of such quality that I feel I have to raise my own game!

I went with Llio. Nathan had been called into work at the last minute. As we entered the building and headed over to the box office, a lovely lady whisked us both away, "come this way, Benjamin..."

I left feeling elated: like British people were finally starting to take musical theatre seriously. There's a lot of talent out there and I feel strongly that one of us, sometime soon, will land a Broadway smash which will be followed by a new British Invasion of America.

To continue with our celebration of British musical theatre, Llio and I went to see Mrs Henderson Presents, which has just opened at the Noël Coward Theatre. It's always a thrill to see a proper West End show, particularly one written by English people featuring a really strong and emotive story. There's something about the London Blitz which goes straight to the heart of any British person. The set was stunning and there were some wonderful performances...

Sadly, that's about where the praise ends for me. I feel a little uncomfortable being nasty about the output of a British writer, but having spent a day hearing amazing shows from wonderful but totally impoverished writers, I felt a little like material by a British writer in a West End show ought to have had me on my feet cheering.

I feel the makers of Mrs Henderson Presents had got a great deal wrong; from the comedian who appeared way too often in front of the curtains telling excruciating jokes, to the decision to give the lion's share of songs to an uninteresting character. The gay character in my view was offensively portrayed. The songs all sounded me same. There were factorial errors as well. One assumes Mrs Henderson is meant to be at least sixty, yet she talks about losing a 19 year-old lover in the First World War just twenty years ago. So much material felt generic and lacking authenticity and the show was devoid of drama and heart, which, considering the subject matter, was no mean feat!

That said, I applaud anyone who dares to put on a West End show which isn't a juke box piece of fluff, and everything was done properly, so don't let me put you off. There were plenty of people in the audience who were having a great night out.

Let's get them broadening their horizons now! Send them all to BEAM!

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