Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Cock blocking the talent

I was looking at a newspaper piece about the new Harry Potter play this morning and read with interest that Imogen Heap has written incidental music and, one assumes, a smattering of songs for the show. Good for Imogen Heap. I have enormous respect for her as an ambassador for electronic music and as a recording artist. I also have great respect for J K Rowling's seemingly relentless desire to promote British talent.

But here's my problem: There are a small band of composers in the UK who have dedicated their careers to musical theatre. It is their great love. It is what they live for. The issue is that whenever a big opportunity emerges in musical theatre in this country, the job of composer is always given to a writer who specialises in something else. Damon Albern, Cindy Lauper, Tori Amos, Gary Barlow, David Arnold... These are all people I respect enormously as writers in their own fields, but when they write for theatre, they start to come unstuck. Their songs often lack story, theatricality and drama. The dance breaks don't work. There's often a sense that the music has been written in haste. Scores of other people will be thrown at the project, often at great expense, to mop up the shite that's been created. I've even known more writers from the world of pop to be thrown at the seething mess, which just exacerbates the problem. Do the shows these people create ever set the world on fire? Rarely; if ever!

I can't think of another art form where this would happen. "Adele needs help with her latest song, so let's employ a classical composer who has no experience of pop music to assist her." "We need someone to put together fragments from Beethoven's incomplete tenth symphony. Let's see if Andrew Lloyd Webber is free." "We need a master painter to restore this fragile work by Rafaelle. Tracy Emin's big in art at the moment. Let's see if she's free. It would get young people really interested in the art form." You wouldn't suddenly put a rock guitarist on the BBC Young Musician of the Year, but the assumption is that you can do what you like in musical theatre regardless of the rot which comes from the lap tops of the people you choose.

How are we ever going to encourage audiences back to British musical theatre if we don't treat our home-grown specialist writers with a bit more respect? In the States, musical theatre specialists are revered. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote Hamilton, went into his own show and tickets started selling for $10,000 dollars. He's not a pop writer who happens to have landed on his feet with Hamilton. He's a musical theatre legend whose ambition was always to be a musical theatre legend.

I get it. Producers hold all the power in British theatre. They buy up all the rights to high profile novels and films, sit on them for years, and when they finally bring them to the stage, think hiring a famous singer-songwriter will bring more audiences into the theatre. I've watched golden opportunity after golden opportunity being squandered in this manner. Home grown musical theatre writing talent effectively gets cock blocked by this process. Writers are prevented from working on shows which have large potential audiences and no producer will invest in a large scale show by an unknown writer because it's "too much of a risk." But what do musical theatre audiences want to see? Large scale shows. It's an astounding viscous circle where literally no one is winning!

There was an unbelievable smell of rain in the air as I ate my lunch today. Actually, more specifically, it was the smell of rain mixed with the promise of a storm. And that storm came at 3pm. It wasn't as impressive as I'd have liked. Fiona texted to say a real humdinger was passing over Brighton a few hours earlier. The news this evening suggested that most of it fell on Croydon. In fact, a whopping 4 months' rain fell in just an hour. So much that the place is presently under water.

The lover of Schadenfreude in me was joyously amused by the sight of thirty school children and their teachers getting caught out in the rain in Dartmouth Park. I passed them as I drove to the gym. They were running for their lives to a bus shelter, screaming like harpies.

The sight reminded me of an occasion during the Edinburgh festival. I've no doubt told this story in this blog before, but it was the day of some big procession and I stood and watched as a carnival float full of children passed by. They were all terribly excited and very happy. Their clothes were entirely made of newspaper. They looked a picture of loveliness. No doubt their Mums had been busy making the costumes for weeks and were terribly proud of their offspring.

The float passed around a corner, and three seconds later, there was a crack of thunder, and a sudden, massive downpour of rain. I kid you not when I say that, no more than a minute later, the float re-appeared and, at top speed, vanished in the direction it had come from. The children were soaked to the skin, and their lovely newspaper costumes had turned into papier-mâché! Every single one of them was weeping. I'm sure it was tragic but I chose to see the funny side. But then again, I'm evil.

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