Monday, 7 December 2009

The Play What I Wrote ... part 1

me hiding behind a double bass and trying to look happy.
And, yes, they are both men.

I don’t keep a lot of alcohol in the house. In fact, if I didn’t have a cold occasionally that required the addition of Irish whiskey to a hot Lemsip, I’d be almost teetotal. So why the other night was I sitting at the computer at two in the morning swigging a bottle of cooking sherry by the neck?

Trauma-induced memory loss: because after the disastrous panto dress rehearsal I had such an urgent desire to get instantly shitfaced that I downed a whole bottle of wine before going to the pub and knocking back pints. By the time I got home in a taxi, I’d forgotten that part of the evening.

Let’s start at the very beginning, as Julie Andrews – whose shadow has rather dogged my year thus far – was wont to trill. I sing with the London Gay Men’s Chorus. Mostly, I love it. Musically, they improve year on year and now are a really solid male voice choir which can put over a merry show tune with gusto but also turn its three hundred tonsils (they do come in pairs, don’t they?) to Verdi, Rutter and the odd madrigal or chunk of early music. And something in Welsh. Or Finnish. I am not exaggerating.

It’s this very virtuosity that makes it hard to present a thematic concert – they always want to show diversity of musical genres, so every production has to include jazz, blues, madrigal, pop and show tune. Several years ago a couple of members had the idea of wrapping the usual package with a pantomime as a Christmas theme. Since it’s hard to mix ‘It’s Behind You’ with the Coventry Carol, this was rejected at least twice - before, in the absence of any better idea, it failed to go down for the third time and was adopted as the 2009 Christmas show and scheduled for three 900-seat sellouts at Cadogan Hall this week.

Now this might have been OK had it not come with a draft script bereft of a single laugh, ill-fitted to the chosen music with a sixteenth century motet set as background to a scrum in a shopping mall, requiring multiple sets and umpteen characters including Jane Russell and ‘the most gorgeous man the world has ever seen’ which is challenging enough in real life, but beyond impossible in the predominantly adipose LGMC. Someone once asked me if the G in its acronym stood for ‘Gunt’. A covert focus group had apparently reviewed the script and considered it unusable, so in October when choir rehearsals were already under way my writing partner PK and I were given two weeks for a complete re-hash.

One of the first things we needed to do was reduce the cast, since Cinderella’s normally performed with about twelve actors so we sacrificed Dandini, the Lord Chamberlain, white mice, pumpkins and the Wicked Stepmother on the altar of practicality, and cut it down to a half-dozen on the grounds that surely the LGMC had six members who could act. This may have been our first mistake.

So far we have the original concept by Team A, the selection of music by Team B, the re-write by our two-man Team C, the musical arrangement by our own MD and his cohorts as Team D – but none of us were allowed to share information in the creative process. The rewrite had to be kept secret from the original conceputalisers, because the committee was afraid to confront them and once formulated the song list couldn’t be altered. It included six carols and a hymn, a Zulu tribal anthem, the children’s song from 'The Sound of Music', a hauntingly lovely early melody about underage forced marriage, Abba, The Hollies, a bit of ‘The King and I’ and the Shoop Shoop Song.

Pick the bones out of that and wrap it around Cinderella.

In no more than four three-minute scenes.

This somewhat charged situation was crowned with the appointment of a 22-year old director whose haircut and general demeanour instantly identified him as Jedward’s missing triplet, fresh out of the kind of college where you might as well get your drama degree from the paper towel dispenser in the Gents.

I’m sure if he ever becomes famous, we’ll all boast of having worked with him but some of his naiveté was breathtaking. He didn’t understand many words in the script, references to Danny La Rue, Stephen Sondheim and Richard Branson went way over his oddly-tonsured head and in a joke about crystal chandeliers he had to ask what ‘Versailles’ meant.

We told him it was a fetish club in Vauxhall.

I’ve learned a new word recently: Twunt. I think I have the etymology correct.

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