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Thursday, 16 June 2016

Romeoed and Julietted - and Stephen Warbeck's lovely score for Shakespeare in Love

Written on evening of Wed 15 June but published Thur 16 June cos I forgot to press Publish before going to bed ;)

I've unintentionally (didn't make the connection til later) intentionally (obviously I chose to do the activities!) binged on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet today. The wonderful four part 'School Drama' play from BBC Radio 4 / Goldhawk Productions written by Andy Mulligan will soon be fading from iPlayer (catch it while you can) and so I've been enjoying it again before it goes, then this evening I saw a screening of Shakespeare in Love at the Barbican followed by an interview with its composer Stephen Warbeck.

School Drama
School Drama has Tom Hollander in it, who I have been moony-eyed over since discovering his occasional column in The Spectator last month - I'm not alone, everyone thinks he's a brilliant writer and I certainly don't think any text I write will do justice to the play.

Acutely observed, funny and moving it's about a failing school trying to put on a performance of Romeo and Juliet and get their performance entered into a schools competition. The script is peppered with little things familiar to anyone who's worked in an office environment - at one point the kettle disappears (presumably for PAT electrical testing) but fortunately reappears later having passed, someone's miffed about a borrowed mug, the entry and security system keeps people out but also stops them from getting food. Geoff (Tom) is a currently-not-acting actor who agrees to come in and direct the play and throughout he is at the mercy of unfeeling bureaucracy and is hampered by the layers of over-protection put in place between him and the students... but perhaps all is not as it seems.

At one point a musically-inclined student joins the production and writes some cheesy songs and there's a wonderfully awful moment where it looks like a dance routine might be incorporated but fortunately it isn't. You can hear the full horror in the 'Capulets Montagues song' in the Soundcloud below. The music is by Jon Ouin of Stornoway and I love his title music for the play. I was also really struck by how many layers of meaning Tom Hollander can put into simple words / phrases like 'Yes' and 'Thank you' - it's a bit like he's speaking a tonal language, though I'm not sure if that makes sense. As if the words had their own invisible subtitles. Fairly impressive for a solely audio-medium I thought!

It's such a lovely play and I will miss it when it rolls off iPlayer - ep 1 falls off in a day or two, ep 2 a day later and so on. There have been lots of really lovely tweets about it and I hope it wins all sorts of awards (I also hope the BBC leave it on iPlayer as permanently available). The final episode is a performance of Romeo and Juliet by the cast and students of Deer Park Academy (actually students at Portsmouth Grammar).

I'm sure no-one would be surprised that I loved the use of sound design - especially how the sound of the person speaking over the tannoy (announcements to the school, used as an ambient sound) was picked up and used in the final episode, really cleverly done.

Shakespeare in Love
The Barbican is celebrating Oscar-winning scores by having screenings of films and interviews from the people who scored the film. It was only when I'd taken my seat last night in Cinema 3 that I realised that I was back in Romeo and Juliet-land, and also back in the land of a play within a play. Shakespeare in Love also has a clever, funny and heartbreaking script (by Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard).

It turned out that quite a few of the film's production crew (including the director) were in attendance so it was a rather nice reunion. The interviewer, Gary Yershon (also a film composer), introduced the film's musical motifs (it was a pleasingly nerdy event) singing a few bits of the melody's themes and pointing out to us how they were used and where they appear in the film. After the film he welcomed Stephen Warbeck to the stage and asked him questions about his method of working and about the film's score in particular.

Composers can be involved in a film from the very start but I think it's more common for them to add music towards the end of the process, once the film's been shot and likely been edited. But because Stephen was writing music that would be performed in the film (for example the dancing sequences) he was involved very early on. He wanted music that referenced the Elizabethan period but also reflected the modern sensibilities of the film.

Apparently there were lots of music students in the audience so Gary asked on their behalf about the use of musical assistants, and how they might get involved. It seems people need quite a lot of technical computing skill as well as their music skills and Stephen mentioned the Tonmeister course as a useful thing. He writes his music often on paper and then it might get tranferred to Sibelius (software) - it used to be developed first on piano but this is becoming less common, something I've heard other screen composers say.

An audience member asked a question about musically literate directors and Stephen again echoed other composers I've heard speak on this topic - that it doesn't particularly help for directors to know lots about music, as what the composer wants to hear from them relates more to the emotion they want conveyed rather than 'a bit faster' or 'more minor here'.

I missed my chance to ask a question in the room but wandered over and caught up with him in the bar afterwards. He'd briefly mentioned performing the pieces live (I attended his concert at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse a couple of years ago, candlelit, lovely) and asked him if he had any plans to screen the film with a live orchestra ('live to projection' aka 'live to picture'). He said it was a nice idea and that he'd certainly consider it at which point I expressed disbelief that it hadn't come up before. I'm sure he was joking but he suggested that I was, so if true I'm very glad I floated it! He'd very much enjoyed a similar treatment of Ratatouille (music by Michael Giacchino) and agreed that Shakespeare in Love might work well in that format (not all films would but SiL definitely would) so I really hope that can happen. Fingers crossed. Meanwhile I'm looing forward to Independence Day Live and Jurassic Park in Concert screened with live orchestra at Royal Albert Hall later this year.

I suppose I really ought to go and see the actual real-life play performed now ;)

Incidentally Tom Stoppard who co-wrote Shakespeare in Love has a new film out in July called Tulip Fever (set about 40 years after SiL I think) Tom Hollander's in it :) And the music's by Danny Elfman!

Further reading / listening
Why Romeo and Juliet is the most "subversive" play ever written - Andy Mulligan (who wrote School Drama)

Shakespeare in Love - soundtrack / OST by Stephen Warbeck [Amazon UK] [iTunes UK]

More about the Oscar-winning scores series at the Barbican
[press release, PDF] [programme and tickets]

Live movie concerts a cash cow* to orchestras - Jon Burlingame (*yippee!!)

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