Across The Pond: The British Contribution (Perfect Pitch)
I had the pleasure earlier this month of spending time in the company of some of the frontrunners of contemporary British musical theatre.
This week I’ll be discussing my conversations with Andy Barnes, Executive Producer of Perfect Pitch, which is ‘the UK’s leading development network for musical theatre.’ They are perhaps best known for co-producing ‘LIFT’ by Craig Adams and Ian Watson at the Soho Theatre, a show which was being assisted in development by Perfect Pitch from as early as 2008 before reaching a professional stage.
My time in conversation with Andy was somewhat brief, but this lack of availability is testament to just how busy everybody at Perfect Pitch seems to be, and I was ultimately very grateful to be given a slice of their precious time. There’s a sense of a much bigger machine at work here: the feeling of being at the centre of a musical theatre beehive. There is a rabbit-hole to fall down when you approach the work of Perfect Pitch, and for me that’s one of the most exciting aspects of this vibrant company.
I posed some fairly sweeping questions to Andy with the aim of getting a generalised idea of how he sees the landscape of new British musical theatre, and he didn’t disappoint. The conversation was compelling and far-reaching, with some pretty hefty metaphors and a route which was leading us towards talking about the very nature of the art form itself. It was probably a good thing that we were pressed for time, because the discussion would undoubtedly have gone on for hours.
The vibe of what we were saying was that British musical theatre tends to favour subject matter and tone over style. It seems that where there may well be a very distinctive American musical theatre ‘sound,’ here in the UK it’s becoming increasingly difficult to pin down what a musical actually sounds like. Where the US (at least from an outsider’s perspective) seems to be heavily influenced by the work of Broadway’s greatest, there is very little legacy of previous British musical theatre in what our writers and composers are coming up with.
Andy made it very clear that he doesn’t think the future of the art form is a revival of the British mega-musical boom which brought composers such as Andrew Lloyd Webber into the genre. On the contrary, it seems that the work being produced is quite the opposite of the brash 1980s, and that actually the art form is leaning into territory with far more depth and complexity than the UK contribution has become associated with.
It seems that in the past thirty-or-so years, there have been many Americans who have risen through the ranks as worthy composers and writers, whereas in the UK we have a very different situation. Andy described the recognised musical theatre contributors as the ‘adults’ and the upcoming artists as the ‘teenagers’; he says that the teenagers have been almost like sleeping giants, and because they have only awakened recently there has been a lot of frantic catching up in order to be able to compete with the well-established adults. The metaphor was far more complex and intelligent than I can give justice, but the general idea is very plain to see when thinking about the shape of the industry.
The idea of a new generation of writers breaking through isn’t an unusual one, and we went on to acknowledge that there is an undeniable feeling of being on the cusp of a revolution within musical theatre as a whole. This is a sentiment which has been mentioned by almost everyone I’ve spoken to on this journey, and although nobody seems able to pin down exactly what that may involve, hearing the opinion of an organisation like Perfect Pitch which is leading in this field is undoubtedly a start towards understanding where we might find ourselves in the coming years.
There is an almost universal feeling that something big is just around the corner, waiting to completely change the way we see musicals and this industry for good, and whilst New York seems to be leading the race, London is definitely stepping up to the mark and becoming a main contender once again; except this time without the technicolor dream coats, roller skates and lycra cat costumes.
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