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

Thursday, 22 May 2008


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


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


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


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


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'!


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 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


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


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.


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.