Monday, 4 April 2016

Day one in the NYMT camp

I'm slightly perturbed to report today that the Corporation of London, or whatever they're now called, have decided to sell three cafes from underneath the noses of the families who presently run them, and have done for more than forty years.

The three cafes in question are all rather dear to me. The first is in the middle of Highgate Wood, the second is in Golders Hill Park on the West Heath and the last is the one down by the bandstand on Parliament Hill. All three are dog-friendly, lovingly-run, inexpensive and charmingly old school. They hark back to a bygone era with their little ice cream kiosks, metal self-service counters and1960s original deco.

Now, I'm usually the first to criticise the NIMBY attitude which shuns the notion of change in favour of some sort of rural idyll which isn't realistic anymore. Change is often very necessary. But here, in these North London parks, people like to escape. Nothing needs to change. The lack of change is what attracts generations of people to these places.

The fact that the Corporation is replacing these quirky, honest, independent cafes with a ghastly chain of restaurants is the most worrying aspect. Chains use brands. They rip out original features. They ignore their regular customers in a quest to appeal to a different, trendier, richer crowd.

...And of course lets not forget that a number of family businesses are being threatened by this decision.

A petition exists, which some 20,000 people have signed. It attempts to encourage the Corporation to reconsider their decision. If you feel obliged to add your name, you can do so here:

I got on a train this morning to Seven Oaks and was aware that I'd brushed past a rather silly woman who was taking forever to settle herself down onto the seats opposite. Instead of saying something to me (I would have been fascinated to know what her beef actually was) she did the passive aggressive, very English thing of first staring at me and waiting for me to look at her, before catching the eye of another passenger and muttering a kind of jokey "some people" remark under her breath. I could see her staring at me in my peripheral vision but refused to play ball, because I'd genuinely not done anything wrong. In the end she stormed off down the carriage, so angry that she would rather martyr herself than simply get over it. Whatever "it" was...

The train was taking me to Seven Oaks school where rehearsals are taking place for the new production of Brass. The National Youth Music Theatre always do a week of rehearsals for their summer shows at Easter, which gives the young people a sense of what's to come, and also a chance to make friends they can look forward to seeing again in the summer. This Easter week is particularly useful for new shows, because it serves as a sort of workshop week to interrogate material and get a sense of the shape of musical.

This morning's journey to Seven Oaks instantly took me back two years. It was just a few days after my wedding and the director of the original production of Bass, Sara Kestleman, and I took a taxi to Charing Cross with suitcases filled with books and research material to inspire the cast. We'd just got back from a research trip to France where we'd spent two days looking at the locations which had inspired the piece. The show, at that point, was barely written. We had a script, but it was an hour too long, and perhaps only ten of the songs had been composed.

I remember feeling terrified. Would the show be any good? Would the young cast take to it? Understand it? Would the missing songs make everyone think I'd had a writer's block and start panicking that the show wouldn't be ready for the summer? I also felt a little bit weird that most of the cast had watched me getting married on Channel 4 just a week earlier!

It turned out to be a rather magical time. The weather was warm, the blossom was out on all the trees, the material went down well and I was deeply inspired. I'd leave Sara, Matt and Ben to the rehearsals and would vanish into practice rooms to write new songs. The music poured out. The song Letters was written in fifteen minutes flat. On one occasion Matt choreographed an entire dance number with me simply banging a drum so that I could orchestrate something which responded to the rhythms he felt the moment required. It was a very interesting way to write a dance number, and wouldn't have been possible without the Easter week of rehearsals.


It's now 1am, and I'm afraid I'm a little bit drunk! Rehearsals went very well. Hannah the director played a series of "getting to know each other" games, one of which was interminable, but highly successful. I certainly feel I know names and information about cast members I probably wouldn't have discovered through any normal rehearsal process.

I'm proud to report that we have a good showing on the LBGT front in this particular cast, although I have to keep reminding myself that gay white men are no longer allowed in the club, so I'm not sure where that leaves us!

It seems a happy cast, with a good percentage of proud Yorkshire folk which makes me feel very happy.

So there we have it. Day one in the NYMT camp is over... Where will the adventure take us next?

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