It’s a show! The birth of a new musical
by Mary Evans
As someone who has produced an equal number of musicals and children, not for the first time it occurs to me that the processes have a lot in common. They both start with a bang, they both make me fat and no matter how painful the production, I’m always euphoric with the end result.
My newest arrival is H. R. Haitch, the new comedy musical I am writing with Luke Bateman. As is the way of these things, we told the good news of our baby’s due date by a doctor – Dr Dan Winder of Iris Theatre. It really was a dream commission – an opportunity to write a brand new show produced by this vibrant theatre company in Covent Garden – and thus far, it’s been a very straightforward pregnancy.
H. R. Haitch follows the adventures of East End chef Chelsea Taylor in her quest for the man she loves. The hitch? Her dippy boyfriend Harry is in fact HRH Prince Henry, who has lived his life in secret, shielded from the world’s press by a media embargo that lifts as our show opens on the eve of his 25th birthday. It’s a long way from Barking to Buckingham Palace and Chelsea finds herself caught between two worlds fighting to keep their identity: her father’s traditional East End pub under threat from regeneration; and the Royal Family, whose excess is making them deeply unpopular in these austere times.
As Oscar Wilde quipped, ‘talent borrows, genius steals’. In this case I stole the idea from myself, from a film script I had started to write around the time of the last royal wedding. As much was being made in the media of a “commoner” marrying into the Royal Family, I mused how the media would respond if someone rather less gentrified than the Duchess of Cambridge wed a prince – after all, if Kate Middleton is common, what the flamin’ Nora does that make the rest of us?
But if you are going to bring new life into the world, it is important to pick your partner well. He can never know, but working with Luke is like the perfect marriage – we have a natural chemistry, mutual respect, clearly defined roles and we can sleep with other people. Our relationship began, as so many do nowadays, through a dating site – in this instance Iris Theatre’s Work in Process Blind Date competition back in 2012. Composers and lyricists had to post personal ads for their professional talents and were then paired up. Luke and I were put together and hit it off from minute one – we were fortunate enough to win that competition and the two Xmas Factor competitions that followed it in 2013 & 2014, leading to Iris commissioning this musical.
Going from writing individual songs to a full show is like going straight from your first date to living together. We’ve had to work out a process as we go along (not to mention who’s taking out the bins), but it has been enormous fun doing so. I write book and lyrics, so for the songs I usually write a verse and a chorus, Luke writes the tune and then I lyricise the rest to his music. When I was running short of inspiration earlier in the process, I asked Luke to write the tune first, a request I immediately regretted after a tortured week of twisting my words around his notes – although the two numbers concerned have turned out really well and it was interesting to try a new position. I’ve written the script as we’ve gone along and we act it out between ourselves to see what works – you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Luke play a randy sexagenarian woman…
So as the due date approaches, we are getting ready for the final push – rehearsals start in early May. Our baby is developing nicely and is lucky enough to already have a generous godparent in the Arts Council England, which is supporting the show with funding. Original musical commissions are rarer than primary school places, so we feel very lucky to have the chance to bring one into the world. Will it be a beautiful baby?
Judge for yourselves on Weds 20th and Thurs 21st May at the Actors’ Church, Covent Garden at 7.30:
www.iristheatre.com. We look forward to wetting its head with you.
Tickets are only £10. Buy them here.