Written before the pandemic outbreak, this could hardly have been more timely. A rhyming libretto by Leo Doulton at first had me stumped: how could such a doom-laden scenario be treated as a 'comedy of manners', as he put it?
Eventually, I remembered the nostalgia of The Good Old Days and thought of music-hall characters populating the stage. Two 'cockney' clowns come across a 'posh' self-isolating Queen, who invites them into her sordid bunker to party. Coming across Emily Thorner, a soprano with ultra-high notes - and then finding she was moving from Germany to London - completed the 'picture' for me. The score became a succession of song & dance numbers with - and this was the lucky break - an accordion for the accompaniment.
Discussions went on with Bill Bankes-Jones, Artistic Director of Tête à Tête, for many weeks with regard to its possible appearance in their festival this year. Would theatres be allowed to open? Would they be able to host live performance? It all looked very bleak, and so I was delighted when Korina Kokkali and Simon Gleave took on the project to make a film. Not a video of a performance, but an experimental art-movie directed by Adrian Ardelean.
We had a blast of a week in August, taking over a derelict warehouse in Lambeth known previously as The Workshop. It had been a huge garage servicing the London Fire Brigade (their headquarters?) but had long since been abandoned, though a small artists' colony had made use of some of the spaces. Rainwater ingress was evident; we got wet feet. Having got behind on the schedule, we caught up on the final day and even finished a few minutes early. It was all so intense that, driving home, I had that rare feeling I’d been away for months rather than days.
It would have been nothing without Charlie Wood’s sets and costumes, and Layla Bradbeer's generous assistance. They worked night and day to create a spectacle out of bin liners, loo paper, cans (of mushrooms, apparently), a toilet pan (where did that come from?), pallets and newspaper. The centrepiece was a bath, found on site somewhere. This really was street art as set design, but detailed and meaningful. Simon’s staging and Korina’s choreography made the show by turns serious, tragic and very funny. The cast and music department were tireless, on set and performing for nearly 10 hours a day. Emily, Gráinne and Simon were stars and looked fab too, with Charlie and Layla spending 40+ minutes on each doing make-up.
The music? Well, it was un-sophisticated, not very original and won’t challenge an audience too much. But hey! it did the job, allowed the voices to shine and gave the piece the character of folk and vaudeville. The accordion was great, really supported the voices, giving an orchestral attack just when you want it. Unable, it seemed, to play a note wrong all week, Ilona’s musicianship and concentration is a rare thing, and we were very fortunate to have her on board.
Not leastly, the opera hangs on a guest appearance by a child. Enter the effervescent 6 year old Henry Clements, whose only reward for learning his song was a box of Lego. Thanks Helen Clements!
Meanwhile, the live performances at The Cockpit were given the go-ahead and we appeared to perform a concert, but costumed, version a couple of weeks later. (16 September 2020)
Words - Leo Doulton
Music - Edward Lambert
Queen - Emily Thorner (soprano)
Squib - Gráinne Gillis (mezzo-soprano)
Lissa - Simon Grange (bass)
Dark One - Henry Clements
Accordion - Ilona Suomalainen
Musical Director - Elspeth Wilkes
Design - Charlie Wood
Production Assistant - Layla Bradbeer
Stage Director - Simon Gleave
Movement Director - Korina Kokkali
Sound - Malcolm Cromie
Boom - Ben Gandy
Lighting - Sonny Ray Casson
Producer - Katie Gunn
Director - Adrian-Florin Ardelean
Composer and musician