I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle
I Capture the Castle based on the novel by Dodie Smith Book and lyrics Teresa Howard music Steven Edis

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Happy New Year!


Wishing a Happy New Year to all our readers!

Steve is still busy working on the Hackney Mother Goose panto which I went to see and had a fabulous evening! I am now slowly coming round after Christmas. The New York trip was a truly amazing time, hearing More Than Life sung by Clearspace Productions, meeting theatre producers and agents and seeing some fabulous shows. Tish Francis made me a delicious lunch in her Arts and Crafts house in Oxford just before Christmas to discuss the future of Possessed. I also met up with the designer David Roger who read the script and made an excellent suggestion for the opening which I have now incorporated in the revised script.

Getting Possessed on is, of course, my new years resolution and Steve and I are also planning to get down to the songs for our new musical now that we have come up with a good basic structure for the show.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

101 Hymns and Songs of the Celtic Spirit


While I was in Lewes, Delaware, I decided to spend my last fifteen minutes looking round St Peter's, the old Episcopal church across the road. Inside the door I was enveloped by the most beautiful organ music I have heard for a very long time. The organist and composer was George Bayley. I had already been told about George by some of the other residents of Lewes. "He's world famous" they had said. I sat in one of the pews in the little church, with it's vivid stained glass windows and thought how much William Morris would have savoured this moment. George's music was so beautiful, I understood why he was so well known. It was a perfect moment - a concert all to myself on a rainy Friday in November in Delaware. I had entered the church on a whim but was so pleased I had gone.

After George had finished playing I went over to him, shook his hand and thanked him. He told me that he had played his compositions in St Paul's in London and many other wonderful places. He has set to music hundreds of hymns and songs, and very kindly signed copies of his books to me: 101 Hymns and Songs of the Celtic Spirit and also The Deerwood Anthem Book. If you click on the title above it will take you to the Deerwood Music Publishers Website where you can order copies of George's music books. They really deserve to be played all over the world.

Although he writes for choirs and the church and I write for the theatre, talking about our different worlds and the creative process was very exilerating. Many people who have listened to Possessed have said that the songs have a Celtic feel and so this connection was very exciting to discuss. Time was short before my taxi arrived but we exchanged cards and contact details and he has since contacted me with an amazing idea which I shall write about further.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Public Theatre


Yesterday was one of the most exciting days in New York. I had somehow managed to get a meeting arranged at the Public Theatre to talk about Possessed! Above is a rather bad photo of the theatre which is covered in scaffolding at the moment but is housed in a rather magnificant building on Lafayette Street. The Public was started by Joe Papp, but it's new Artistic Director is an amazing charismatic man called Oskar Eustis. This theatre has always had a special place in my heart. Way back when I first came to New York, a play called The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer was on there. it was one of the first plays to deal with the issue of AIDS and HIV. I was so moved by the show that I called a producer friend in London and told him that he had to get this show on in the UK, whatever happened.... well, he did!

The Public puts on shows of great integrity, runs a free Shakespeare festival in Central Park in the summer, there are special 'rush' tickets for only $20 if you come by the theatre at about 6.30pm before the shows start. It has grown from a new idealistic space for theatre to become part of the establishment because of the fine work they put on there. So you can imagine how exciting it felt to be going up in the lift to talk about our show to the guys working in musical development. No one here knows anything about the Pre-Raphaelites, but they don't seem to mind about that, they also don't seem to mind about period drama. What matters to them is the story and the passionate relationships of the characters, the music and yes, that this is a show about inspiration. I think I rather like the Americans!

In the evening I managed to get a $20 'rush' ticket for Stephen Sondheim's new musical Road Show which had opened at the Public the day before. The book is by John Weidman and British director John Doyle directed the show. There were some wonderful performances by Michael Cerveris and Alexander Germignani as the Mizner brothers and Alma Cuervo as their mother. I will go into more detail about this show in another post, because it really deserves its own page - it was a brilliant show and another 'awesome' day in New York!!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Clear Space Productions New Works Festival!


Above is a picture of Doug Yetter (on the right), the Artistic Director of Clear Space Productions and Ken Skrzesz another member of Clear Space, who sang the part of Gabriel in the New Works Festival. Donna de Kuyper sang the part of Jane. Donna had appeared in Chorus Line on Broadway (one of my all time favourite musicals). Ken and Donna sang the love song from Possessed, More Than Life Itself, with passion and sensitivity. It was strange to hear it with American voices but they really gave their all to the song which was such a compliment. I had to introduce the song in the context of the musical and also say a bit about what I was up to in New York. Somehow I managed to make everyone laugh but this wasn't too difficult because they all seemed so excited to have this random Brit at the show and were so enthusiastic, it was a joy and well worth going all that way for.

The first half of the evening was an introduction to a new artist - Alysia Lee. She had just graduated from the Peabody Conservatory of Music, John's Hopkins University. She presented an amazingly broad selection of songs from Mahler to Richard Rogers. My favourite musical song was Taylor The Latte Boy by Marcy Heistler and Zina Goldrich. Alysia had brilliant comic timing in this song and is a really fabulous singer.

The second half of the evening, which included our song was a mixture of new musical songs. There was also a song from another MMD Member called No Answer with music by Tim Saward and lyrics by Tim Saward and Darren Deeks. This was brilliantly sung by David Button. David was the first person I met as I walked into the theatre and was full of fun and an extremely good performer. He also drives a very nice little sports car, which he kindly took me back to my hotel in!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Peter Polycarpou Back In the West End!


I went to see the second preview of Imagine This at the New London Theatre, Drury Lane, with Steve last night. My old friend Peter Polycarpou was playing the leading role of Daniel. Peter had played the part of Topsy (William Morris) in the first showcase of Possessed at Greenwich Theatre in 2006. He was a complete joy to watch in this new musical! His energy drives the show and his gloriously rich singing voice envelopes you. The singing on the website for the show is not Peter.... you have to go to the show to hear him for yourself. Playing the father of a Jewish Theatrical family in Warsaw, Peter was in his element. Yes, he's Greek but ... Jewish, Greek, Italian - what does it matter, Peter, as Daniel, gave a masterly performance as a the father of a big family struggling to survive. A man who everyone looked to for the answers, even when he wasn't certain what they were, a man who was trying to do the right thing not only for his family but for his people, a man driven by the love of humanity. Peter's charismatic performance that night is something I will never forget.

Simon Gleeson as Adam and Leila Benn Harris as Rebecca, the young leads, were electric to watch and listen to as well and I particularly loved their soaring harmonies. Little ten year old Nathan Attard was a fabulous Leon, totally focused and believable for a boy so young. Sevan Stephan, who played Gimli, one of my favourite characters from Lord of The Rings film, gave a sensitive performance as Max. The music and lyrics were very good and it was wonderful to have a 14 piece orchestra.

It was so lovely to sit drinking scotch with Steve and Peter in his dressing room, talking about the show and life, Obama and the world and everything!

Imagine This is not open to the press until 19th November, but you must go and see it right now!!

Monday, 3 November 2008

Unexpected Inspiration

Only nine days to go until I leave for New York!
There is still a lot to do, meetings to firm up and stuff to send out, but today I have been working on the new musical. Inspiration arrived unexpectedly and so I began working on the first song. It is strange to begin writing for a new show when Possessed has lived with me for so long. In a way, getting over the hurdle of the first song will make it all much more real and possible, so I am really pleased it began today. Steve and I are still working on the structure of the new musical, but this was one song we both agreed had to be there, and so I feel safe working on it. The structure is a bit all over the place at the moment but the essence is there, which is always an exciting and frustrating moment.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

A Profound Secret


Supper with Timothy Wilson (the Keeper of Western Art at the Ashmolean) and his wife Jane was magical. I learned so much and was made to feel so welcome. Timothy and Jane were truly fabulous company. They had both been to see Possessed at Oxford Playhouse and were excited by the connection between the art and theatre world. Colin Harrison the Keeper of Pre-Raphaelite Art also made an appearance, before he had to rush off to give a lecture. Colin told me about the up and coming exhibitions and was a wealth of knowledge on everything Pre-Raphaelite. He knew Margaretta Frederick, the curator at the Delaware Art Museum, whom I am meeting during my trip to the States, and knew about every museum in the world which housed the most famous paintings. Before he left he invited me to come to the Museum the following day and look at the drawings and watercolours that Edward Burne-Jones had given to Amy Gaskell, which are housed in the print room. Josceline Dimbleby wrote a wonderful book about her great Aunt Amy, called A Profound Secret. In the book she traces the family secret behind the life and loves of her beautiful great aunt, who sat for one of Burne-Jones' most famous portraits (above). This painting is part of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Collection.

The next day I was allowed into the inner sanctum of the museum to look at the Burne-Jones box of work he had given Amy. I was also able to look through some wonderful drawings by Rossetti, mostly of Lizzie Siddal. Ever since I went to the print room of the British Museum to look at the letters between the characters in the musical I have been obsessed by these people. But the real highlight of the morning was going to look again at the corner of the museum which held the great wardrobe Burne Jones had given Morris and Jane as a wedding present. Janey, of course, featured on the painting at the front. Beside it were two beautiful chalk Rossetti's of Jane - Daydream and Pandora. The richness of the colour and emotion emanating from Jane's face vindicated everything Steve and I had worked for in Possessed.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Spring Awakening


Only two weeks before I go to New York! I am very excited about going to see Atlantic Theatre Company's production of Spring Awakening, a remarkable musical based on Wedekind's play, of the same name. Even though it has been one of the hottest shows on Broadway it will be closing in January, so I am glad I'll see it before it goes. It won 8 Tony Awards! The Book and lyrics of the show are by Steven Sater and the music is by Duncan Sheik.

Spring Awakening is a story about puberty and teenage sexual discovery, set in Germany in 1891. It was banned from the stage when Wedekind first wrote it and not performed in the English version for 100 years. I wonder if anyone is considering it for the UK?

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Agents

Micheline Steinberg, my agent, has suggested that Steve and I find an agent in New York because she doesn't represent clients out there. So I am attempting to do this. Most US theatres and production companies prefer to be contacted by agents rather than receive unsolicited material from writers. If an agent sends your work in, a producer is far more likely to take notice of it because they know it has been vetted by an agent first. When I first started writing stage plays I worked as a literary agent for a while. Initially I worked for Michael Imison and Alan Brodie and then set up my own agency. I represented a handful of young writers and also the Estates of some very well known writers, including Dorothy Parker, HE BAtes, DH Lawrence and John Wyndham. There is nothing like working as an agent for a few years to really learn how it all works. While I was working for Michael, as his assistant, he was very generous. He took me to all the openings and introduced me to everyone. I remember it as a very exciting time in my life, where I met some amazing writers and actors and read hundreds of plays!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Hackney Empire


Steve has now begun his annual stint at Hackney Empire, helping to create London's most popular panto. This year it is Morther Goose, starring the glorious Clive Rowe. After the critical triumph of last year's Dick Whittington they have brought together the same fantastic artistic team to present this new production. Clive's co-star is Sharon D Clarke from Holby City and Last Choir Standing along with a host of other fantastic performers including Tameka Empson, Kat B, Anthony Whittle, Matt Dempsey, Susie McKenna, Alex Ross, Abigail Rosser and Carl Parris.

The show is written and directed by the multi-talented Susie McKenna with Music by Steven Edis.

To book your ticket for the Panto you can click on the title link above which will take you directly to the Hackney Empire website.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Ashmolean

I am going to visit the Pre-Raphaelite Collection at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford next week. In the evening I have a meeting with Timothy Wilson, the Keeper of Western Art from the Museum. He came along to see the Oxford Showcase of Possessed and we have been meaning to meet up and talk about it all ever since. I thought it would be helpful to see him before I go off to visit Margaretta Frederick at the Delaware Art Museum in November.

The Ashmolean, was the first public museum in Britain. It began with a collection of natural history items from the Tradescants which were bequeathed to Elias Ashmole. The grand classical museum building, and the Taylorian Institute nearby, were designed by the architect C. R. Cockerell. It is going through an enormous redevelopment at the moment and there will be a whole gallery devoted to the Pre-Raphaelites, when it is finished. Many of the Pre-Raphaelite works which the museum holds are from the collection of Thomas Coombe, one of the early patrons of the Brotherhood. The Ashmolean is directly opposite Oxford Playhouse

Monday, 13 October 2008

Books for Writers

I have invested in some good books for writers on the New York Theatre scene: The Dramatists Guild Resource Directory, Dramatists Sourcebook and the most recently published Theatre World, which have all proved to be very useful. It is only when you are trying to make connections in another city that you realise how much you know about your own. Just checking things out on the internet is just not enough.

After going to Delaware I am going to be staying in New York between 16th November and 21st in a lovely little brownstone hotel in Chelsea. I found it in The Dramatists Guild book, which has a couple of pages of reasonable hotel suggestions along with all the usual stuff about theatres, agents and producers.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Imagine This?


Peter Polycarpou, who played the role of Topsy (William Morris), in the Greenwich Theatre Showcase of Possessed in 2006, is starring in the new musical IMAGINE THIS! The story of the musical is by Glenn Berenbeim with music by Shuki Levy and lyrics by David Goldsmith. It opens at the New London Theatre on November 19th. Sadly, I will be in New York on the opening night but have promised Peter I will come as soon as I return. I visited the site of the Warsaw Ghettos during a tour of Eastern Europe in 2005 and above is a heartbreaking photograph that Charles Girdham took of some of the remains of the ghetto wall, which is now a children's playground. More photographs of the ghetto and Poland can bee seen on his website Images change the World.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

BBC 2 Pre-Raphaelite Drama Series

BBC 2 are making a six part TV series about the creation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood . It doesn't involve our story, which is the second wave of the brotherhood. It tells the story of Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti, who decide to break away from the Royal Academy and form their own secret society, the PRB. Lizzie Siddal will be in it of course, lying in the bath being painted by Millais, for his Ophelia painting. Amazingly the series will set out the foundation of our Possessed story, making the musical far more topical. This is really good news!

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Delaware Art Museum


I received an email from Margaretta Frederick, the curator of the Delaware Art Museum. Amazingly, this Museum in Delaware holds one of the most important collections of British Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the USA! She has invited me to come and look at them when I go to Delaware in November. Other galleries in the States which hold Pre-Raphaelite paintings are: Baltimore Museum of Art; Harvard University Art Museum; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Walters Art Museum Baltimore and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The Delaware Collection includes Dante Gabriel Rossetti's WATER WILLOW (© Delaware Art Museum, Samuel and Mary R. Bancroft Memorial), painting of Jane, which is one of the paintings to have influenced our duet between Janey and Topsy (William Morris) called Upstream. In the background of this painting you can clearly see Kelmscott Manor, where the lovers spent their summers together, in the old house Morris and Rossetti rented together. William Morris also loved the River Thames and met Janey in Oxford, while he was working with Rossetti on the Arthurian murals for the Oxford Union. He later bought a house by the Thames, in London which he also called Kelmscott.

A verse from Topsy's part in the duet Upstream:

I dream
So many colours now.
Azure, green and yellow ochre,
Prussian blue and golden amber.
I will weave your willow water,
Where I met your river daughter.
How I loved the gleaming shadow,
Merton Field and Christchurch Meadow.
Upstream,
Where my inspiration lies.
Golden amber, silver water,
Flowing from your river daughter.

Brits Flood Broadway

According to Judd Hollander the US Correspondent for the Stage (Thurs Sept 25th 2008), British Theatre is flooding Broadway at the moment. Equus opened at the Broadhurst Theatre on 25th September, the Royal Court's Seagull is opening on 1st October at the Walter Kerr Theatre, A Man For All Seasons is being produced by the Roundabout Theatre at the American Airlines Theatre, the musical epic A Tale of Two Cities at the Al Hirschfield Theatre, Heroes by Tom Stoppard will be presented by the Keen Company, and Billy Elliot at the Imperial Theatre... as well as many others.

Steve's musical composition had a very good reception on Broadway a few years ago, at the Circle in the Square Theatre, with his Drama Desk Nomination for Not About Nightingales, directed by Trevor Nunn.

I am working on a list of theatre producers and literary managers to go and see when I go to New York on 17th November after the Delaware New Works Festival. Although Possessed is a very English musical, it seems to me that most of the other shows that are going to Broadway are also very English.

Monday, 22 September 2008

New York

I have decided to go on to New York after my trip to the Festival in Delaware in November. John Sparkes from the Chicago Theatre Building has suggested I go and see the Artistic Director of the York Theatre in Manhattan. They are an Off-Broadway theatre who have a history of putting on new musicals. I am planning to take the musical with me and see what sort of response it gets from theatres in New York as well as any producers who may come to Delaware for the Festival.

It is an awfully long time since I went to New York. Union Square was only just becoming fashionable. I was staying in a loft there belonging to a wanna be pop star. A limo used to arrive for her every morning to take her off to the recording studios. I was traveling with my close friend, the writer Katie Campbell. No one could have shown me round the city with such ingenuity. It was August and there was no air-conditioning in the loft, so I had to sleep with the window open and a fan blowing in front of it. The noise and heat of the city kept me awake but I loved it all. Yes, I walked on the top of the World Trade Centre, as everyone else did who went there in those days. This time I will make my way to Ground Zero and pay my respects.

Friday, 12 September 2008

More Than Life Itself in Delaware!!


I have just discovered this morning that our song MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF, from Possessed, has been chosen to be one of ten new musical songs to be sung as part of the Delaware Festival of new work. It will be performed on 13th November at The Little Theatre in Lewes, Delaware!! This song is the passionate love song, sung by Jane and Gabriel in the scene at Kelmscott Manor. I have just texted Steve to tell him. He is working in Austria at the moment and sent me back an excited reply. I am not sure what happens next. It is about 5 in the morning in Delaware so won't hear any more news until tomorrow.

Above is a photo from the Arts Theatre rehearsals of Possessed, with Anna Francolini and Joseph Millson singing More Than Life Itself. The photo was taken by Charles Girdham.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Rossetti in Vasto


I have just received information from the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood blog about a wonderful new exhibition of Rossetti's work in Vasto, Italy, along with that of his sister the great poet Christina Rossetti. If you click on the title it will take you to a piece at The Times Online about this exhibition. Dante Gabriel Rossetti never visited Italy during his lifetime but now at last his work has traveled back to the town where his father Gabriele Rossetti, was born. Gabriele Rossetti was a Professor of Italian at King's College London but studied poetry and painting in Naples and passed his love of the arts onto his children. Like the parents of so many geniuses he sowed the seed which blossomed into talent far surpassing anything he would have been able to create.

Rossetti's Beata Beatrix painting of Lizzie Siddal dominates the exhibition at Vasto. In Possessed we re-create the scene where Rossetti sits sketching the face of his dead wife Lizzie, just after her suicide. It is a shocking scene but one we felt was important, in order to understand that this was the only way he could try and attempt to cope with the death of his wife, after a marriage where he had found it difficult to show her his love.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

ISTRIA


I have just spent a week in Istria working on the structure of our new musical. Sitting under the trees at Mofardin I found the tranquility I needed to create a skeleton structure with songs. I have put each scene and song idea on cards, just the way we did for POSSESSED. Although this is the way I have worked on TV screenplays it works very well with the technically complicated structure of a musical and allows Steve and I to work together to move things around getting the right placings for songs before I start work on the dialogue. I have yet to decide exactly where the interval will come but hope that this will become clear soon.

Morfardin was five minutes walk from the crystal clear Croatian Adriatic... so different from the coast in Italy. When I needed to mull over ideas I walked down the white dirt track road to the beach, swam and lay in the sun and suddenly I knew what the next scene should be. In the evenings the farm came to life with other guests and locals. We ate meat and fish cooked on the open woodfire grill and drank homemade wine and grappa. It was a blissful time!

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Independent

Paul Taylor's review of Gigi at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park it the Independent had a wonderful comment about Steve's orchestration today:

"One of the great joys of the production is the lovely, sly wit of Steven Edis's orchestration, which gets up to all kinds of clever cheek as it gives a fresh boost to such well-worn numbers as "The Night They Invented Champagne" and "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore". "

It is thrilling when the critics notice how brilliant he is!

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

PUTTING IT TOGETHER: The Earthly Paradise

The Earthly Paradise

The Earthly Paradise

The Earthly Paradise www.theearthlyparadise.com/ blogger has written a review of Possessed and put up one of the great rehearsal photographs of Anna Francolini and Joseph Millson as Jane and Gabriel (taken by Charles Girdham).  The photograph is taken from the scene at Kelmscott Manor, where Jane and Gabriel spend the summer together, while Topsy (William Morris) is in Iceland writing his Norse Saga.  It represents the heightened moment when Gabriel wants Jane to do more than sit for him - played out in the duet "More Than Life, itself".  He has never been able to tell Jane that he loves her, he can only do it in song.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Adaptation

I now have two weeks with my children all away in different parts of the world to really get down to some serious work on the new musical I am writing with Steve.  This is an adaptation from a novel.  There has already been a film but I have decided to work from the novel and also use the biographical information on the author to help inform the work.  The novel is very biographical and so the stories about her life in both the biography on her and her autobiography will be very useful.

I have made copious notes on the novel,  chapter by chapter and background to the characters etc.  I have also made some decisions about who and what to eliminate.  My next job is to decide which are the most important scenarios from the book that need to be in the musical.  I have been mulling this over and making notes and think I have already got a good idea.  I am already getting ideas for songs but need to put them on paper now.  Unlike Possessed, I am thinking of opening it with a song which tells us about all the characters, where and who they are and what is happening in their lives.  Although 'In My House" is an opening number in Possessed there is an introductory scene between Jane and Bessy at the opening which helps tell the back story of the musical and set up the relationship between the two women, but I think I can get away without this in the new show.  

One important aspect of the new musical is the two very distinctly different places it is set in, I am going to use this to open up the show and also inform about the period it is set in.  One place is dark and mysterious and the other bright and frivolous....  I am going to try not to worry about how to stage them at the moment but the obvious way would be a revolve.

The characters are very real already.  It feels as if they are sitting in the Green Room, waiting to go on stage!  But experience tells me that the more I plan their entrance the better it will be and the easier it will be put words and songs into their mouths.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Alex Pettyfer and Frances Knox


The opening night of Gigi was great fun!  Steve's orchestration was sublime as usual.   Nymphlike  Lisa O'Hare was a glorious Gigi, practically perfect in every way, and her leading man the beautiful Thomas Borchert gave a seamless performance as Gaston.  Linda Thorson and Millicent Martin as Aunt Alicia and Mamita were both stunningly hilarious as the good and bad influences in Gigi's life.   Topol, in his lilac suite, charmed the audience  with that famously deep and tremulous voice.

But the highlight of the evening for Steve's and my daughters - Madeleine and Frances (who played May and Jenny Morris in the Possessed workshop performances) was meeting Alex Pettyfer at the after show party.  Alex came to watch his father Richard Pettyfer, who was playing Manuel in the show.  Richard has been a West End musical performer all his life and clearly passed on the thespian gene to his charismatic son.  Alex became the heart throb of every teenage girl after appearing  in Tom Brown's Schooldays and then the film Stormbreaker.   Alex will hit the headlines yet again today in the premier of the film Wildchild, as Freddie, playing opposite Emma Roberts (Julia Roberts neice).  Above is a photo of Alex and Frances, with Linda Thorson and Richard Pettyfer in the background at the after show party.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

GIGI at Regents Park Open Air Theatre

I am off to the Press Night of Gigi at Regents Park Open air Theatre tomorrow.  Steve is the orchestrator for the summer musicals at Regents Park, as he has been for the last 12 years.  I have an ominous feeling about the weather and think that maybe this is one year we may not end up eating our picnic on the lawn!  

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

POSSESSED REHEARSAL PHOTOS

I have astonishingly managed to upload some photographs from the rehearsals of the recent Possessed performance.  They were taken by Charles Girdham on 24th April 2008 at the Arts Theatre.  The actors include:  Anna Fancolini (Jane), Matthew White (Topsy - Morris), Joseph Millson (Gabriel), Elizabeth Renihan (Lizzie), Natalie Wright (Bessy), Martin Lamb (Mr Carter), Frances Knox (Jenny) and Madeleine Edis (May). 

Charles has his own photographic website at www.imageschangetheworld.com

Monday, 11 August 2008

DANTE'S INFERNO

This morning I heard from my brilliant source at http://www.theearthlyparadise.com/ that the DVD of the BBC's Ken Russell film DANTE'S INFERNO is going to be available at last as part of a box set entitled 'Ken Russell at the BBC'.  This film is not to be confused with Dante Alighieri's Inferno, but the comparison was drawn by Russell because Rossetti was obsessed by his namesake and even translated his own version of Alighieri's masterpiece. 

The website quotes a price and date for the US, but I will find out what Amazon has to say and try and add it to my Amazon recommended list - at the moment you can only sign up for when it becomes available and no date or price is quoted.  This film is about Dante Gabriel Rossetti's life and his own personal hell.  The brooding and vulnerable Oliver Reed plays Rossetti in the film which was made before Russell became infamous and is reputed to be the perfect combination of the talents of Russell and Reed.

This painting of Rossetti was by Holman Hunt and certainly does bare some resemblance to the young Oliver Reed.


Saturday, 9 August 2008

DESPERATE ROMANTICS AND POSSESSED

I spent some time yesterday telling producers about the Pre-Raphaelite TV series and luckily this seems to be in our favour.  If public awareness is raised about the creation of the PRB movement through the TV series, then the story that our musical POSSESSED tells, of the second wave of the movement, will be far more interesting.  I am busy printing out new copies of the script and DVD to send out and on Monday and will be dropping some more copies of scripts into the National Theatre.

The curious thing is that there has already been a 6 part BBC TV series about the Pre-Raphaelites called The Love School.  It came out in 1975 and starred Ben Kingsley as Rossetti!  I imagine some BBC 2 viewers will remember this but the new series is to be very different!


Friday, 8 August 2008

DESPERATE ROMANTICS

Pre-Raphaelite Drama for BBC 2.
This morning I discovered that there is to be a six part TV series on BBC 2 about the creation of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  It will tell the story of Millais, Hunt and Rossetti prior to the story of the musical.  There is a link to the article about it if you click on the heading of this blog.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

OXFORD

I received a lovely email from John Bugge thanking me for the talk at University College Oxford last week.  He said that his students were bowled over by the talk and the music and lyrics they heard and that some of them will be writing papers on the work!  He said that "it's all too seldom that a visitor manages to raise the temperature of classroom discussion the way you did!"  

It is a strange and rather wonderful feeling to know that students are using Possessed for their studies - combining the worlds of theatre, art and history.  


Tuesday, 5 August 2008

THE NATIONAL TRUST


Not surprisingly, I live in a Victorian cottage.  It is in London, but as you can see it looks as if it is sitting in the heart of the Oxfordshire countryside.  I am fighting against a planning application to do extensive building work to the Victorian Villa next door, which would include demolition of part of the back and side walls of the Villa.  

Life reflects art and art reflects life.  It seems as if I am destined to carrying on William Morris' work, protecting the English heritage.  Morris formed The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings which was dubbed the Anti-Scrape society.  At the core of Morris' philosophy which was heavily influenced by his friend and mentor, John Ruskin, is the belief that old buildings should look old, and that historic fabrics should be respected and preserved.  The Morris' protection society was intended to preserve buildings from over development and also from destructive restoration.  This society was the seed of what was to become The National Trust.

Above is a picture of my house.  If the planning application goes ahead a flat roofed box like structure will be erected one meter from the right hand side wall, reaching as high as the eaves.  I have a petition online relating to my own particular planning application objection which you can read and sign if you so wish:

Thursday, 31 July 2008

UNIVERSITY COLLEGE OXFORD

It was wonderful to be in Oxford again and John Bugge the Academic from Emory University, Atlanta, made me feel very welcome.

John showed me up to the blue room in the Masters lodgings, where I was to spend the night.  It was a boiling hot day and the sun streamed in through the ancient windows which looked out over the chapel and the Alington Room where I was to give my lecture later that evening.  I looked through my notes and tried to calm my nerves.  I had been asked to talk about the relationship between the central characters and also about my lyric writing and how I came to write POSSESSED.  I had made copious notes but decided to just talk and play some of the songs from the Oxford Playhouse performance.

I was greeted by champagne on the lawn and John introduced me to Pat Miller and the rest of the academics who were  running the summer programme.  The students were swanning about drinking champagne too.  They were mostly Juniors, but in the States this means they had completed their first two years of University and had another two to go.

The Alington room was a beautiful old paneled dining room.  We had a fabulous supper and I chatted to the students near me who were all very bright and rather excited.  Eventually it was time and John introduced me.  Once the wave of nerves had left, I found myself flying through the story that had captivated me for so long.  There was so much to tell, I could have talked all night, but this was only an after dinner talk and all I could do was skim the surface.  I did manage to play some of the songs, and then we had questions outside.  The questions were extremely thoughtful and I particularly enjoyed this part of the evening.  

John and Pat and the students were so enthusiastic and hospitable.  It was a fabulous evening!

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

OXFORD TALK


Tomorrow I am going up to University College Oxford to give a talk about POSSESSED to the American Emory University's summer British Studies Programme.  It is an interdisciplinary curriculum which includes a course on modern and contemporary British theatre taught by Pat Miller.  Pat had seen the advertisement for Possessed when it was on at Oxford Playhouse and handed it to John Bugge who was running a course on Morris, Rossetti, and the Pre-Raphaelites.  Sadly the show had passed before they saw the ad but have asked me to go and talk to their students instead.  

The talk will follow a formal supper in the Alington Room of University College.  I shall be staying overnight in rooms at the university.  It seems that Oxford draws me back to it once again!  I am very honoured and excited about going and am now busily preparing my talk.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Open Air Theatre Regents Park


On 14th August I am going to see Gigi at the Open Air Theatre Regent's Park. Steve has arranged the music for this wonderful old musical, which includes numbers like "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" and "I remember it well" .  The book and lyrics are by Alan Jay Lerner and music is by Frederick Loewe.  It is based on a novel by Colette, the French novelist whose real name was Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette - pictured here.   Colette had no boundaries where love was concerned and happily flaunted her bi-sexuality in front of the shocked Edwardians. 

Gigi stars Lisa O'Hare in the title role, who has recently been playing Maria in The Sound of Music.

If you have never been to the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, then you have missed a treat.  It is a magical setting for theatre and no wonder they often do Shakespeare there, it was made for it!  People either bring a picnic or eat in the fantastic restaurant.  I am usually found hugging a jug of Pims and laughing much too loudly in the second Act!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

CHICHESTER FESTIVAL THEATRE

The Music Man was a great success!  I only went to see a preview but the show had a standing ovation - the audience really loved it.  Rachel Kavanaugh's direction was truly excellent.  Steve had orchestrated 13 instruments for the show, including the wonderful violinist who played in the POSSESSED Oxford Workshop:  Juliet Leighton-Jones.

The even more remarkable thing was that I met producer Jamie Wilson, from the MMD Speed Dating evening, in the interval, totally by chance.  He had come to see the show with  Jonathan Russell, from Mark Goucher's office.  Jonathan had been to see POSSESSED at the Arts.  This chance meeting gave me the opportunity to talk about POSSESSED again and introduce them both to Steve.  They both asked to see the DVD, which I duly sent off to them.  So all in all it was a great evening!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

SPEED DATING

Mercury Musical Developments held a speed dating night at the Actors Centre -  no, not the romantic kind!

It was to link up composers, lyricists, book writers, directors and producers.  There were, of course, too many writers, and we were all trying to dodge each other in a vague attempt to speak to people who could help us move our shows on.  I talked to some really interesting people though, and was particularly impressed to see the fresh new faces of Rival Theatre Company really listening to writers and taking an interest.  Producer Jamie Wilson was also there, giving good realistic advice.  He put some tough questions to me which made me realise how hard it is to pitch an idea face to face.  I always discover afterwards what it was I wanted to say!

In the end, when the dust settled, the writers did end up together, mainly to laugh and rant about life.  It was great to see  composer, lyricist Susannah Pearse again.  She is a wonderful comic writer and is off to Edinburgh to do a reading of her new show.  It was also good to see David James, from the Writers' Guild, who never ceases to make me laugh about the business of theatre, and God you do have to laugh!  So many West End shows have bombed recently, shows by the 'right' people and produced by the 'right' people.  Nothing can guarantee a show's success.   However, experienced or hard working people are, the cards are always unseen in this game of risk.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

MARIE-JEANNE LECCA

Yesterday I had breakfast with designer Marie-Jeanne Lecca.  She had read POSSESSED and is interested in designing for the show.  Strangely enough she has just completed a job designing costumes for a production of Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde which is going to be opening in Germany in the New Year.  The costumes were spectacularly beautiful, each one a work of art, created with great depth of thought and imagination.  The costume pictured here is from her Ring Cycle for Covent Garden Opera House in 2004.  It is part of an exhibition at the V & A, which I must go and see.

Marie-Jeanne's studio was a treasure trove of books, pictures, masks and objects from all the shows she has worked on over the years.  Looking through her designs and photographs of productions she had worked on I felt so excited and inspired.  POSSESSED, with its Pre-Raphaelite setting is a designers dream and to work with someone as creative as Marie-Jeanne would be amazing!

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

THE MUSIC MAN


On Saturday I am going off to see The Music Man at Chichester Festival Theatre.  Steve is the orchestrator and musical supervisor for the show.  It is directed by Rachel Kavanaugh, the artistic director of Birmingham Rep.

The book, music and lyrics are by Meredith Willson and story by Meredith Willson and Frank Lacey.  It is starring Brian Conley as Professor Harold Hill and Scarlett Strallen.

This is an American musical classic with a tremendous score including 'Then There Was You', 'Trouble' and 'Seventy Six Trombones'.  

I haven't been to Chichester since my clown play 'Grock' was on there many years ago.  I remember spending a fantastically intensive week prior to rehearsals, sitting in a cottage in a picture postcard village called Sheet, chained to a desk doing re-writes - it was still bliss!  We had a really excellent cast.  Derek Royle, who played Grock, was truly amazing, he had begun his performing life as an acrobat in a group called the 'Adonis Three' and so was perfectly suited to the physically demanding role of the first music-hall clown!!  

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

FRED EBB

Today I am busy putting together a submission for the Fred Ebb Award.  Fred Ebb was the lyricist who wrote with John Kander and produced memorable musicals like Cabaret, Chicago and Kiss of the Spiderwoman.  I am particularly fond of Cabaret.  

I don't hold out an enormous amount of hope but think it is worth a try, because you never know!  I can only submit four songs, and it was difficult deciding which ones, but have come to decision and am busy printing everything out to send off to the States.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

LET'S START AT THE VERY BEGINNING

I have taken Julian Fellowes advice and found a new musical idea to work on while I am waiting to hear news on POSSESSED. It is based on a book but is a deadly secret because the rights cannot be bought, because they are so valuable, but the agent has given us leave to produce a first draft. Steve and I are really excited by the idea. While Steve is working on MUSIC MAN at Chichester, I am sketching out a synopsis, character outline, chapter breakdown of the whole book and have started to think about how I can open up the idea to translate it into a musical.  I have also started reading round the subject.  The novel is very autobiographical and luckily there is an autobiography of the author and a biography, so I have plenty to go on.


Thursday, 19 June 2008

NAMT Festival of New Musicals

On my return from Venice I discovered the sad news that POSSESSED had not been chosen for the festival in New York.  I can't say that this wasn't a disappointment, it really was, although the logistics and cost of arranging for our actors to go out there had been a problem in the back of my mind.  It would have been pointless to start again with a new team because we had got so far with the Oxford showcase.  

We are still waiting to hear back from a lot of producers here though so we have to sit tight for the moment.  

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

VENICE



I have just returned from Venice, the city Ruskin found so inspirational. The work of Titian and Tintoretto were strong influences on the Pre-Raphaelites. The Scuola di San Rocco, which Ruskin had been so inspired by, was a profound experience for me. On the altar, standing on an easel was a painting of the annunciation. At first I thought it was a painting by Rossetti but discovering it was a Titian and was astonished because I knew there was something else by Rossetti which was very similar. I had to find out what it was.

The first Pre-Raphaelite painting exhibited with the initials PRB, was by Rossetti, called "The Girlhood of Mary Virgin". The composition of the painting was so similar to Titian's, even with the red cloth lying over the balustrade, that I knew this was what I had mistaken the Titian for. It was clear to me that Rossetti had painted a premonition of Titian's painting. He wrote two sonnets called The Girlhood of Mary Virgin to explain the symbols in his painting. He saw the red cloth as a symbol of the unborn Christ, the lily as innocence, the briar and palm her pain and reward. The symbolic lily carried by Rossetti's child angel mirrors the lily held by Titian's flying angel. Rossetti places this little angel in his painting as if it is watching the young Mary waiting for the moment when it will bring her the news that she is carrying God's child. The sewing basket in Titian's painting is the embroidery work that the young Mary is sewing in Rossetti's painting, taking the same shape as the lectern that she is kneeling at in prayer when the Angel Gabriel visits her in Titian's painting. The image of the glowing dove is represented in exactly the same way in both paintings, only in different areas of the picture. The main difference in Rossetti's painting is that he also includes a man outside the window tending to a vine, who is a further prophetic image of Christ - and also an older woman sitting beside Mary, who is a thoughtful St Anne, but could also represent the older Mary that she is to become.  The Titian Annunciation far surpasses Rossetti's early painting in skill and drama and has much more of a sense of movement and life to it but there is something strange and fascinating about Rossetti's prophecy painting.

The Scuola Grande di San Rocco was one of the high points of my Venetian trip, I will never forget it. But there is one mystery, as far as we know Rossetti never went to Italy...

Thursday, 22 May 2008

DELAWARE

MMD sent out a call to all musical writers about a Festival of new work being held in Delaware in November. They were looking for concert songs that tell a story, so I have sent off a couple of the songs from POSSESSED. I have no idea whether they are the kind of material they will be looking for but it would be great if they chose one. I am interested to know what an American audience would think of our work, especially as Steve and I have submitted the musical to the NAMT Festival in New York, which is on in October.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

A DIFFERENT PLOT!

Well, my information about the plot of the musical was quite wrong! Armand was not a Nazi at all and Marguerite was not a Jewess! From the hint that Boublil and Schonberg gave about the show, this was what I had imagined was the story... In fact the father figure from Dumas' Lady of the Camelias, was translated into the character of Otto, a Nazi, and the artist Armand was into a pianist. The essential ingredient in the book is that Marguerite has to make a moral choice about whether to stay with Armand and she chooses not to. In this story, without giving too much away, choice becomes blackmail, which brings the best musical moment in the song: THE LETTER, sung by Marguerite and Otto.

There were some surprisingly wonderful performances by the younger members of the cast including Simon Thomas as Lucien and Annalene Beechey as Annette, Armand's sister. Julian Ovenden's (Armand) voice was glorious and Alexander Hanson was quite terrifying as Otto, the Nazi, although he also shows his humanity through his twisted love for Marguerite. Ruthie Henshall is a beautiful Marguerite.

Jonathan Kent's direction is superb as always and he also collaborated on the book, along with Boublil and Schonberg. I would be very interested to know which were his contributions. I particularly liked the physical theatre element of the direction which added a contemporary dance element to the musical and I think there could have been even more of this. This is a very French musical, with songs that have the feel of Parisian street singers.

I think you have to go and see it and make up your own mind about this brave and fascinating show!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

MARGUERITE

Tonight I am off to the press night of Boublil and Schonberg's Marguerite at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket. They are the book writers only for this musical; the lyrics are by Herbert Kretzmer, who wrote the Les Mis lyrics, and the music is by Michel Legrand who wrote the music for YENTL, which I unashamedly adore. I blame this sympathy with YENTL mostly on the fact that I fell insanely in love with one of the actors from the movie and whenever I hear the music it sends me back to that time. The musical has been based on the novel La Dame aux Camelias' by Alexandre Dumas but they have changed the time to the second world war and made Marguerite a Jewess and Armand a Nazi. Jonathan Kent is directing and the main characters are played by Julian Ovenden, Ruthie Henshall and Alexander Hanson.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

THE PRODUCERS

Since the workshop I have been sending out copies of the book, CD and DVD of POSSESSED as well as doing my best at schmoozing. I am at the post office so often it is beginning to feel like playing a part in Larkrise to Candleford! The material has been winging its way all over the place, even to Chicago and Australia.

When I sat down to write POSSESSED I didn't think - who is going to be our audience or how are we going to market it - I just wrote it because I was crazy about the idea. But now I am beginning to get a clearer picture of the kind of theatres and audience for the show. It reminds me of the words I put into William Morris's mouth "why does everything have to come down to money!" Sadly, a lot of it does...

Thursday, 15 May 2008

MARY POPPINS


Elaine Paige's interview with Stiles and Drewe was "Practically Perfect in Every Way". They gave us all a potted history of their rise to fame, from the moment they met at Exeter University and their first show going down like "a pork chop at a synagogue" to standing in the back of the theatre on Broadway moved to tears over their smash hit Mary Poppins. They played a selection of their songs and I was amazed to discover that they were both really excellent singers. Elaine Paige was a fabulous interviewer but I kept longing for her to join them round the piano.

Afterwards I chatted to them both. George asked how POSSESSED was going and I told him - I'm waiting...

After a snatched coffee and food with my daughter who is at SOAS just round the corner from the Shaw I set off for Covent Garden to go to the MMD Nuts and Bolts session at the Actors Centre. This time we had a triple whammy of Mary Poppins with Stiles and Drew interviewing Julian Fellowes the book writer.

A couple of years ago I listened to Julian Fellowes lecturing about film writing at the London Book Fair, along with the late Anthony Minghella. That was the last time I saw Anthony, an old friend from my youth. It is difficult to believe that Ant is dead and that there will be no more of his sensitive and intelligent films.

Julian was just as witty and open about musical book writing as he had been about film writing. He admitted that Mary Poppins was the first stage show he had ever written. Which must give everyone hope... although he is of course a very skilled screenwriter, novelist and actor as well. They called him a 'renaissance man' - which he certainly does seem to be. His words "just keep writing" are still ringing in my head. I know he is right. I have to start the next one now. I managed to join in the discussion afterwards and later screwed up the courage to give George a copy of the POSSESSED soundtrack from Oxford.

It was an exciting day 'out of the attic'!

ELAINE PAIGE AT THE SHAW THEATRE


I am going to have to drag myself out of "the attic" today because Elaine Page is hosting an interview with one of Britain's most prolific songwriting teams, George Stiles & Anthony Drewe. They won the Vivian Ellis Award for their musical JUST SO, and the 2000 Laurence Olivier Award with HONK! their retelling of the Ugly Ducking story which has since been seen by over 5 million people worldwide. The pair recently contributed new songs to the hit West End and Broadway musical, MARY POPPINS. This Christmas sees the PETER PAN at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and they are currently writing four new shows including SOHO CINDERS.

The Series of interviews has been devised by producer Neil Marcus and Elaine Paige and is open to Mercury Musical Development members at a special rate.

I met George Stiles at the Boublil and Schonberg interview and it will be really interesting to hear him talk about his work with Anthony Drewe. Elaine Page gave POSSESSED a plug on her Musical theatre programme on Radio 2 last month. If you are interested in musical Theatre it is an extremely good programme to listen to. It is on Sundays at 1pm.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

THE NEXT STAGE


The last two weeks have been spent following up interest in the show...and there is interest from some really fabulous producers! I am also contacting all the producers who didn't manage to make it in the end, just to tell them that it all went well, that there is already interest in it and to find out whether they want to see any of the material.

Karl has edited the video footage to make a really excellent DVD and we are going to produce another DVD of the highlights of the show. Charles has made a soundtrack of all the songs with lead in and lead out dialogue from the sound desk WAV. The original full showcase recording had been done on two separate tracks, one for all the music and the other for the voices, which came out on separate speakers. it was really disturbing to hear the music separated from the singing so we joined them together to make a mono recording, which sounds pretty good. Producing it in a recording studio would have got all the levels of sound and voice as perfect as possible but this is not bad at all and perfectly good to give to people.

I have made a new draft of the script using some of the best bits that came out of the rehearsals. There is nothing like the wonderful gifts actors give to a scene. They always asked first before they changed anything but sometimes things came out so spontaneously that it was obvious that what they were doing was right. Some of Helen's cuts and changes have been included as well. There are some scenes I would like to do more work on and a couple of the songs need something more but I think it is best to leave some space before doing anything more, just to allow that objective distance.

Wonderful letters and emails have been pouring in from people who went to the workshops both at the Arts and Oxford. Everyone seems to have different favourite songs and scenes but this was the same when we did the Greenwich showcase. It was a relief to discover that the new songs we wrote were some of the best and that we can turn out good material in a short space of time under pressure.

The video still above is Anna Francolini as Jane singing HUNGRY SEA in Act II.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

POSSESSED


SUDDENLY IT WAS HERE! All the months of work - script writing, song writing, sleepless nights, hammering on doors, phone calls, emails, letters, intense rehearsals - had come together at last. As I was smoking one last cigarette by the stage door Jo Millson came rushing out to thank me for the Rossetti book Steve and I had bought for his birthday. With a hug he was gone and Tish turned up to take me off to greet the guests who had been invited early for drinks before the show.

Steve stood outside the theatre talking to friends and family - when he disappeared to sit at the piano, I never quite noticed, but suddenly he was gone and I knew the time was drawing near. So many friends had managed to make it from London, as well as some of my family, who lived nearby. My son Eddie, had flown in from Venice. Many of the people who came had seen the Greenwich showcase in 2006 and were here to witness the next stage. It was a good audience for a workshop performance, usually only producers, friends and people interested in theatre come to things like this. But the fascination with this pre-Raphaelite story had brought a lot of other people. One American couple outside the theatre asked Karl what it was all about and when he told them they rushed in and bought tickets.

I was sick with nerves but managed to sit with my agent, Micheline Steinberg. Helen was at the lighting desk cuing in lights with Ash, and Taff was on the sound desk. James and Jules were cuing in the projections from a laptop. Miles and Karl were upstairs in the gallery operating the three video cameras. This was a much more complicated operation that the Friday rehearsal at the Arts, so many more things could go wrong.

The lights went down and Jane and Bessy's laughter burst out onto the stage. Just as I had visualised it, they both appeared to be friends at the beginning of the scene, not mistress and servant. By the end of the scene Jane has been dressed as the Pre-Raphaelite icon by Bessy, her maid, who kneels at her feet putting on her shoes.

Everything went smoothly. The projections were not as clear as we had hoped but Karl's idea of making them morph out of something which looked like molten glass worked. Everything slid into place. After the applause for the first song I felt that the audience was on our side and really began to enjoy the show. In many of the very emotional scenes the actors were off their books, for a five day rehearsal period this was unheard of.

Anna Francolini was more like Jane than I had ever hoped possible; the dramatic change between her thoughtful side, which burst to life when she laughed and sang, was vivid to watch. Matthew White's rich singing voice and gruff tenderness made us care more Topsy than I had ever have imagined. Joseph Millson's Gabriel had the ascetic sensitivity and passion of Rossetti, and his madness scene was more powerful on stage than it had ever been in the little rehearsal room. Elizabeth Renihan had the look of a Shakespearean tragic heroin as she drank the laudanum at the end of scene 4. As she entered as the ghost for the first time, in a shaft of light, I saw how powerful her visitations could be in the fully staged show. Natalie Wright, who had played Bessy in the Greenwich showcase had become Bessy for me. When I did my rewrites, it was her voice I heard in my head. She is a brilliant comedian with perfect comic timing, but in this show we also saw her more sensitive side as she makes up to Mr Carter. Martin Lamb's Northern accent has lent a whole new meaning to Mr Carter - I can't imagine him with anything else now. His embarrassment at Gabriel's forthright jokes and secret longing for Bessy almost made me blush with him. Frances and Maddy were much older than the little girls who should have been playing Jenny and May Morris but this didn't seem to matter, they were totally convincing and the ghostly shadows that Ash gave them for the WHO IS THERE song were perfect.

All too soon I was outside in the foyer amongst the hubbub of people again. It had gone well and there was a real buzz, I felt extremely lucky to have had such brilliant people to work with.

Above is a video still taken during the song JANEY in ACT II showing TOPSY (Matthew White), MAY (Madeleine Edis), JENNY (Frances Knox), and BESSY (Natalie Wright) in the background.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

OXFORD PLAYHOUSE TECH RUN



For this showcase at least, my job as writer was almost over. The vision I had once seen in my head was about to strut out across the stage of the Oxford Playhouse. But I wanted to watch all the threads come together in the tech run. I arrived early at the theatre with Helen, and was greeted by Tish Francis at the stage door. She had come to welcome us, which was so thoughtful. The stage door man took me on a tour of the theatre. He told me all about the play he was writing about Dracula and I told him about my visit to Transylvania for the opening of Ilinca's art exhibition, and explained how much the Romanians hated the Bram Stoker story. I offered to go off and find some extra props we needed and found myself wandering around Oxford shopping centre looking for something Gabriel could present the dormice to the little Morris girls in. Lush had exactly the right sort of box and I went rushing back to the theatre to discover the cast already doing a music run through in the rehearsal room upstairs. I joined in the "gingerbread" scales and then went back down to see what was happening in the theatre.

Karl Roberts had worked all night on the new projections and came rushing up to Oxford in the driving rain to deliver them. James and Jules set to work slicing and shifting the old and new images to get the right mix. Helen ran through all the lighting cues with Ashley Bale. This was the moment when I realised how wonderful it was that she had worked at the theatre before, knew all the staff and understood how the equipment worked. There was so much going on and so little time to bring it all together but she kept perfectly calm - I was full of admiration. We had to abandon the idea of using the fore stage because it would have meant a completely new lighting rig, which would have taken hours. This was a great shame because it would have helped bring the actors closer to the audience, but in the short time we had it was the right decision.

Karl and Miles Standish set up three cameras in the gallery, with which to film the show. We went for a smoke outside. It seemed so strange to be there with Miles, we had belonged to a youth theatre in Chesham when we were children - acting, writing, singing - now we were working together again. It is all my fault that he got caught up with the theatre and film world - I dragged him to the stage door of the Palladium one day and he hasn't looked back!

After a break the actors and musicians did a run through on the stage. The projections were still being sorted out and every now and then I could see the screen of James's Mac appearing on the projection gauze with images being lifted and dropped into the imovie timeline and then appearing in full on the gauze. It was a race against time. The show looked very different on the stage and the lighting, which Andy had produced, was wonderful. I was especially impressed with the shadow of the artists studio window on the ground and also the beautiful green leaf effect in the Kelmscott Manor scene. The actors had learned their words for many of the scenes and for a moment it almost looked as if they were doing the show for real.

We had hired a medium grand piano for Steve which sounded so much better than a keyboard or upright. All the actors had radio mics. For the girls, this was the first time they had used them, and Frances and Maddy were very excited to hear their voices amplified in the theatre for the first time. I am glad Steve decided to MD the show himself in the end, he is so empathetic with the singers. I can't imagine anyone else being so sensitive to them, especially with such a tough call as that day was. Juliet and Etta were almost hidden behind the piano on stage but it was amazing to hear the richness of the sound in the theatre at last.

By the end of the tech run there was just enough time for me to go and get changed and rush down to meet the first members of the audience and guests.

The picture above is a video still of Joseph Millson as GABRIEL in the madness scene in Act II.

BATH PLACE HOTEL


The day before the Oxford show was a complete scramble, there were so many things to do and not enough hours in the day. Steve and I had decided to spend Saturday night in Oxford, with both our families, so that we were fresh for the early tech run the next day. But actually being able to escape from London ended up being difficult, although we managed it in the end.

I had to collect props left at the Arts Theatre the day before and Karl Roberts had decided to add some more animations to the projections and wanted me to go over to his edit suite to look at them before I left. I also had to go to theTate to get presents and cards for the company, because this was the only place I would find Pre-Raphaelite pictures and books suitable. It was Joseph Millson's birthday on the Sunday and I knew that nothing other than a book about Rossetti would be right. I also wanted to get Helen something for all her hard work. Frances and I had to find a suitable doll for the little Morris girls to fight over but of course it was in the attic and this took time scrabbling around in the dust, but we found her in the end.

Eventually Frances and I set off in the car, with the easel I had borrowed from my artist friend Ilinca Cantacuzino, perched ridiculously across the little vehicle. We were staying at Bath Place Hotel, where Jane Burden is reputed to have been born - room 11, I was told, but we had room 9. It was a quaint little hotel, down a side street, leading to the Turf Tavern, where I had worked as a young acrtress in Oxford, many years before.

Somehow we all managed to get there and had supper out in the evening with Helen and the Edis family. I am not sure how I slept that night, but I did.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

THE ARTS WEEK


After that first day at the Arts, doing the read through, I was swept along with the whirlwind of rehearsals and script cutting. We had decided to cut the script down to 75 minutes without an interval. We had been advised that a workshop should be either 45 or 75 minutes long. It was better for the audience to leave wanting more. We never quite managed to get it down to that time but were close.

I spent long nights and early mornings churning out paper and words from the depths of my study. During the days I watched the show unfold, sitting close to Helen, watching and waiting for her eyes to turn to mine, checking that what she had done with the actors was ok. When the actors needed to know what I wanted from a scene or a piece of dialogue I leapt in to offer advice. Helen worked through scenes with tremendous energy and skill and always made me feel a part of it, which means a lot to a writer of a new work. It was very intense and exciting. There was very little time for the kind of re-writes there had been in the Greenwich workshop. We had the same amount of rehearsal time to block and rehearse twice the length of material. By Thursday Helen had taken the actors through to the end of the script and we had our first full run through. A young director called James Quaive assisted Helen on the book and anything else that was needed- he turned out to be a real gem. Jules Tipton, who I met on the E15 POSSESSED workshop came along to a lot of the rehearsals and lent a hand anyway she could. She was a rock of support.

Everyone gave their all, contributing to scenes, discussing their characters and really working incredibly hard to make POSSESSED live. The actors were amazing - we were so lucky to have gathered such a wonderful cast. Steve was there every day to accompany everyone on the piano, working away on new orchestrations quietly in the corner and offering up ideas when he was needed. There was a lot of laughter even though everyone was working so hard.

Wednesday was a tough day with decisions to be made about the projections and whether we were to use the main stage at the Arts or not. We decided not to use it because it had very little flat stage set up for the show in the evening and this turned out to be the right choice.

Thursday was the first run through of the cut script. My friend Charles Girdham, who had done all the beautiful publicity and web design, came in to take rehearsal photos. He was amazingly inconspicuous for a photographer and the picture above of Anna Francolini and Joseph Millson is one that he took that day. There are more up on the possessed website. The actors and I cobbled together some basic costumes to give a feel of the time and the characters. The run through went well - we all knew we had a show!

On Friday 25th, producers and a few friends, who couldn't make Sunday at Oxford, had been invited to a private rehearsal in the Arts Pigeon 1 at 3pm. In the morning the three piece orchestra ran though all the numbers before the actors arrived. Steve had found two wonderful musicians: Juliet Leighton-Jones on violin and viola and Etta Morgan on French horn. They all shared some percussion instruments, which the National Theatre had kindly lent us. It was the first time I had heard Steve's orchestration and I was in raptures (sorry no other way to describe it!). While Steve and Helen took the actors through a run through of the songs I paced around waiting for radio Oxford to call and interview me about the show.

We had an audience of about 50, including most of the producers I had invited. It was intensely exciting waiting for the show to begin. It went very smoothly. There were a lot of tears and laughter and when Anna sat on stage singing HOLD STILL at the end a wave of intense relief swept over me. The audience reaction seemed very good and everyone joined us for drinks and talked animatedly about the show afterwards. Tish Francis from the Oxford Playhouse was there to support us which was really wonderful. My dear friend the journalist and writer Stephanie Calman admitted to having cried through nearly the whole show, which I took as a great compliment! The actors and musicians pulled out all the stops, and for a show in a little rehearsal room it felt electric.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

FIRST DAY AT THE ARTS

I was so nervous before the first day of rehearsals, but now that it is over the sense of relief is amazing. It was a great feeling to come home on the train with my daughter, who is playing Jenny Morris, knowing we had shared that incredible day together. We have a fabulous cast and Helen is a wonderfully dynamic director. We did a read & sing through of the whole musical in the morning. Those new songs sprang to life in a way I never thought possible. The cast were not only brilliant but also great fun and full of enthusiasm which was really lovely. In the afternoon we worked on character, blocked one of the largest company scenes and did some work on the songs.

It is four in the morning and I am printing out the cut scripts to save time in the morning. I have had to do the cuts for the showcase, to get it down to 75 mins...it kept me busy for quite a while!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

REHEARSALS START MONDAY!

The first day of rehearsals at the Arts will begin with a read through and sing through of the whole show. This will be really helpful for everyone to see the bigger picture before we start making a shortened version for the showcase. It will eventually be cut down to 75 minutes, which will be run without an interval. I imagine that the whole show will last about 2 hours with one interval but it will be interesting to see whether this is right. The script has changed a great deal since the read through for the Greenwich Showcase in 2006 which Clive Paget directed.

Friday, 18 April 2008

SINGING REHEARSALS

Steve has now rehearsed the songs with all the actors in the show. He is very pleased with everyone. Hopefully I will hear them all on Monday at the first day of rehearsals. I am particularly excited about hearing the new songs we have written. It was not an easy time to be working on them, with the pressure of producing the showcase coming up, but sometimes that added pressure helps the juices to flow.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

THE PRODUCERS

The last few weeks have been very hectic, sending out snail mail and email flyers about the showcase in Oxford and then following this up with calls. The response has been wonderful! I never imagined so many producers and influential people would be coming. I have only a few more days to work on this and then I will be handing the reins over to Sophie my PA while I am in rehearsals. A lot of the producers who are coming have known about the show for sometime, which I do think has helped. Having the beautiful website at www.possessedamusical.com is also fantastic!!

Thursday, 10 April 2008

ALAIN BOUBLIL & CLAUDE-MICHEL SCHÖNBERG



As a member of Mercury Musical Developments I was lucky enough to be invited to a very special evening with Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg in an interview with George Stiles. Boublil and Schönberg wrote Les Miserábles, Martin Guerre and Miss Saigon. They also wrote the book of Marguerite, with music by Michel Legrand, which is about to open at the Haymarket Theatre (if you click on the title of this blog it will take you to the Haymarket Theatre site where you can learn more about the show). Listening to them talk about the way they met and the years they have worked together I was astonished to find that they lacked the cynicism of so many successful writers. They spoke with a passion about their work, which was almost palpable. At the end of the talk Georgina Bexon, who runs MMD, introduced me to them and told them about POSSESSED. They both really liked the subject of our musical and Claude-Michel asked to hear our songs. I left The Actors Centre that night feeling as if I had touched greatness!

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

STARS OF THE GALLERY

The Oxford Times has announced that the new Pre-Raphaelite Gallery at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (just opposite Oxford Playhouse) will open on 21st April - just a week before the showcase (6pm on Sunday 27th April). If you click on this blog title you can read the article in the Times. I have spoken to the editor of the paper and he hopes to run an article about POSSESSED and the opening.

The Ashmolean is open from noon until 5pm on Sundays, so a visit to the museum before coming to the showcase at 6pm is a must if you love Pre-Raphaelite Art!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

ELAINE PAIGE - RADIO 2

Elaine Paige gave POSSESSED a plug on her radio 2, musical theatre programme last Sunday. The programme is on between 1pm until 2.30 on Sunday afternoons. You can hear the programme again on the Radio 2 website if you click on this blog title it will take you there.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

JOSEPH MILLSON



Joseph Millson's fan site at www.josephmillson.com is counting down the days until the POSSESSED showcase! If you click on this blog title it will take you to his site.

I have to admit that I cannot wait to hear the new songs being sung by the actors at last. The last three songs were the most difficult but could not have been written until the rest of the show was ready. The love song we have written for Jane and Gabriel called MORE THAN LIFE was easier than I had thought it would be, but hearing it sung by Joseph and Anna Francolini will be the moment of truth.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

NATALIE WRIGHT & MARTIN LAMB


The glorious Natalie Wright will be playing Bessy in POSSESSED. She wowed our audience at the Greenwich showcase with her comic timing and it will be great to work with her again. Steve got to know Natalie in Susie Mckenna's Jack and the Beanstalk at the Hackney Empire in 2005.

Bessy's opposite number will be Martin Lamb who is playing Mr Carter. Martin has an amazing voice and sings with Garsington Opera, Scottish Opera, and has worked with our director Helen Eastman with the English Touring Opera. He is also a wonderfully sensitive actor - a perfect foil for Natalie!

ELIZABETH RENIHAN



Elizabeth Renihan is going to be playing Lizzie Siddal in the showcase. Elizabeth is a superb actress and singer and has worked with Steve at the National Theatre a number of times. She has the intense passion that Lizzie needs. I hope the bloggers at www.lizziesiddal.com will come along and see her!

MATTHEW WHITE



Matthew White will be playing Topsy in POSSESSED, the character based on William Morris. It was touch and go whether we would get this brilliant actor for the part of Topsy and now we have it confirmed. Matthew was King Neville in Cinderella at the Old Vic with Joseph Millson, who will be playing Gabriel. He has also appeared in the fantastic DR WHO series. The composer Steve Edis knows Mattew well and is very pleased to have him in the company.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

ANNA FRANCOLINI



Anna Francolini played Jane Morris in our showcase of POSSESSED at Greenwich Theatre in 2006, Steve and I are delighted that she has accepted the part of Jane for the new showcase at Oxford Playhouse. Anna is a very fine actor with a beautiful singing voice. She also looks amazingly like the young Jane Burden as you can see in this photograph. Her performance in Caroline or Change at the National Theatre in 2007 earned her an Olivier Award nomination. You can still catch her in '3 Sisters on Hope Street' by Diane Samuels and Tracy-Ann Oberman (after Chekhov) at Hampstead Theatre, which is running until 29th March.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

PETER POLYCARPOU

I went to see Peter in ARTEFACTS at the Bush Theatre on Friday. It was a brilliantly written show by young writer Nick Bartlett. Peter played an Iraqi archaeologist with power and gravitas. He was stupendous! There were moments when he looked strangely like David Suchet but this only seemed to add to the whole effect! He is over the moon because the show will be going off to Broadway after its UK run. All the performances in the show were seamless, I am sure it will do very well.

It was wonderful to have him playing Topsy at the Greenwich showcase of POSSESSED, we have been friends since drama school days and his presence gave me a confidence I needed then. He has always been a generous actor willing to give feedback on work and fantastic in rehearsals. Writers need people like Poly!

ARTS THEATRE

It is confirmed - we will be rehearsing at the ARTS THEATRE in Great Newport Street, London WC2. This is a wonderfully central location. We will be having an open dress on the last day of rehearsals for an invited audience who can't make it to the show in Oxford.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

REHEARSALS

It has been a stressful two days trying to find a new rehearsal space because we lost the one we were hoping for. The Trafalgar Studios have been really wonderful and kept us as a possibility but can't guarantee anything. The date is drawing near and so we have to make a decision soon. I don't think I can risk it for much longer. I felt that somehow we would find something but I want it to be a space that we will all enjoy working in. I have discovered some wonderful places and even considered Terminal Recording Studios. At last I think I have found the perfect place, right in the centre of town. I am going along to see the space on Friday... watch this space!

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

CASTING TOPSY

We are still trying to find a Topsy (William Morris) but have set our hearts on a wonderful actor and am waiting to hear back from his agent. Peter Polycarpou played Topsy in the Greenwich showcase. He is in ARTEFACTS at the Bush Theatre at the moment. I am going to see the show on Friday. It is too many years since I went off to see him in Les Miserables at the Cambridge Theatre, when he was just starting out.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

LYRICS

Steve and I had an intensive day working on the last three songs. We have almost cracked them now, but I still have a new verse to write for Topsy (Morris). Steve's music for the Gabriel/Janey love song MORE THAN LIFE, gave me that tingle down the spine that every lyricist dreams of.

We also had a meeting with Martin Lamb, who was up for the part of Mr Carter. Martin is totally different from Andrew McDonald, who played Mr Carter at the Greenwich Showcase, but we both immediately felt he was right for the part and have signed him up. He has a gloriously rich sounding singing voice and will be perfect playing alongside Natalie Wright as Bessy. He has also worked with the director before.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

JOSEPH MILLSON



Today I heard back from Joseph Millson's agent that he will be playing Gabriel. I am delighted! Joseph was a fabulous Prince Charming in the recent Old Vic Cinderella, although I don't think we are going to be asking him to take a shower as Rossetti!

PRODUCTION MEETING

On Monday Helen, the director, and I went up to Oxford to see Michelle Dickson the soon to be Artistic Director of the Playhouse and Tim Boyd, the Technical Manager, to have a production meeting.

We discussed sound, set, costumes, furniture, stage, the band, lighting, projection and publicity. There were also queries to iron out about tickets, comps and hospitality. Both Michelle and Tim were really helpful and in an hour we had covered pretty much everyting we needed to know. I also managed to speak to Sarah Jervis, the Press Officer which was really useful, after the numerous calls we have had.

The tickets for 27th April showcase at 6pm

On sale at Oxford Playhouse box office tomorrow

Ticket Hotline: 01865 305305
www.oxfordplayhouse.com

Tickets: £10 (£8 discounts)