Music and Madness ; OUR HOUSE Theatre RoyalOur House is a musical featuring the music of Madness, but the popular band's songs aren't just shoehorned in. Erik Petersen spoke to writer Tim Firth about finding a story that was already there
FOR Tim Firth, there was only one way to write a musical based on already existing music.
Tim, whose other works include the musical adaptation of Calendar Girls and a co-writing credit on the film Kinky Boots, wasn't interested in simply turning around a jukebox musical based on music guaranteed to pull in a crowd.
You can only embark on a project like this with existing material if you feel there is a story to be told and there is a connection between you and it, he says.
I knew in my heart there was only one band I would ever do it with, and that was Madness. The result, which debuted in 2002 and won the 2003 Olivier Award for best new musical, also works because a natural narrative thread exists in Madness' music. I felt there was a musical in there - there was a story in all those songs, Tim says.
The videos that Madness produced when people still made videos as regularly as they did were nutty and irreverent, Tim says. But of course, the songs weren't. And when I started to look at the lyrics, I got this idea of how heartfelt the lyrics were.
In a way it is a musical that has been borne out of the lyrics that were already existing. Fortunately the lyrics had this common theme of home and hearth and heart and injustice and duality, people who live on both sides of the line in life.
When it came to choosing the songs, he covered the floor with lyrics.
I didn't as much impose a story on them as find the story ... the musical they didn't realise they'd put together.
His aim was to create something that a Martian would listen to and assume it had always been a musical. It was not to be a fly- past of greatest hits.
He also worked with the band - when he needed something new, he'd go to them.
It was a very organic experience, he says.
Then there's that term: jukebox musical. Often used in a derisory way about musicals made of pre-existing material, it's not a label Tim completely shies away from.
In a sense it is that, with 80 per cent of it previous material, he says. You can't deny that. But the pride that I have in the show and that everybody has is because I don't think you'd be able to tell that. The reason I've stayed so proud of the show is that it stands up as a musical. It doesn't lean on the material, it invigorates the material. The thing he can't stand in musical theatre is the embarrassment of asking why a character's singing rather than just saying it.
The music is there to articulate a moment that can't be achieved in dialogue, Tim says. When it doesn't happen, it is ass- clenchingly embarrassing and I hate it.
One enjoyable aspect was revealing to the members of the band the musical that Tim felt they'd unwittingly already written.
When I felt I had (a story), I had to sit around a table with the band and say this is what it is, he says. For them it was quite curious.
The musical tells the story of a teenager who breaks into a house on his 16th birthday to impress a girl. From there, it splits in two - the story of the good character who stays to face the music when he's caught, and the bad one who flees.
In writing that, Tim had been able to pick up the story of their lives. They said his script was almost a biography of their joint childhoods.
As a writer, your experience filters into the work, Tim says. They probably didn't realise how drenched it was in tiny detail and how that would speak to a writer who was re-envisioning it.
Our House, The Madness Musical is on at the Theatre Royal from Tuesday to Saturday. Showtime is Tuesday to Thursday and Saturday at 7.30pm, Friday at 5.30pm and 8.30pm and Saturday at 4.30pm. Tickets are Pounds 16 to Pounds 32 and can be booked on trch.co.uk, 0115 989 5555 or at the box office.
'I knew in my heart there was only one band I would ever do it with, and that was Madness. im Firth
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