Previews begin tonight at the National Theatre for The Light Princess, a brand-new musical by Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson that Marianne Elliott is directing. But it hasn’t arrived from nowhere
It has been in development at the National for some four years, and gone through numerous workshops along the way.
It was even fully cast and announced for full production a year ago, when the plug was suddenly pulled and it was postponed. In the issue of The Stage out tomorrow, I have interviewed leading lady Rosalie Craig who has been involved in all the workshops and she told me,
I was supposed to do it straight after I did Company in Sheffield [which was staged over Christmas in 2011]. But Nick [Hytner] has been so brilliant. It was tough when he said it’s not ready, but it was the best thing for it, because it gave us time. There is nothing worse than racing against the clock and what for? For it to be a flash in the pan and everyone to say it was a bit embarrassing?
Hytner took a bold step to make sure it was given its best shot. And, Rosalie says now,
It was a small price to pay for where we are now. I feel it was absolutely necessary for Nick to make that call, or we wouldn’t have any of this.
Tori Amos was interviewed in The Observer a couple of weekends ago, and she quoted Hytner telling her,
The hardest form to achieve on stage is a good musical. There are more failed musicals than any type of art.
I thought of this show’s own troubled history and those words last Friday when an e-mail suddenly popped up about a new British-written musical Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory that was due to start performances that very night at Hackney Empire had suddenly been cancelled:
We are very sorry to tell you that our run at Hackney Empire, which was due to start tonight has been cancelled. This is a terrible shame, due to circumstances beyond our control.
As the show’s writer, director and co-producer Paul Boyd told The Stage on Monday, an investor had pulled out and left the production with a cash flow problem, leaving them unable to pay salaries that were due.
In the world of new musical development, of course, the very fact that salaries were being paid at all can be a novelty, so kudos to them for doing so in the first place. But more than that, Boyd and his producing partners decided on immediate transparency with his artists. Speaking to me yesterday, he said,
We realised we had a serious problem on Thursday, and the first decision we made was to tell everyone what was happening. We didn’t want to string anyone along. On Friday morning, the cast came in do a press call, which gave us the morning to try to right it, but by Friday afternoon we had another meeting and a collective decision was made that it would be for the benefit of the show not to open, rather than open and quickly close, damaging what had been a good reputation.
And although, he notes now,
We haven’t got a show, relationships are stronger than ever, which is why we’re still fighting for it. The show is in a box, and it just needs someone with a key to now open it.
But it’s a story that also highlights a deeper problem: the fact that the writer had to partly become his own producer to get it done demonstrates, yet again, the difficulties writers face in getting their work not only noticed but actually put on. And Boyd admits,
I never wanted to be a producer. I’m a writer, but there’s no system for people to get their shows produced. So sometimes you have to take a risk and do it yourself. And it makes you realise how difficult it is – producing is not an art form but a science.
Paul is not the first creative person and sadly won’t be the last to learn this difficult lesson. Even Tim Rice has had to turn producer to get his latest show From Here to Eternity on, as he did, too, on Chess. Andrew Lloyd Webber, too, long ago became a producer. But each of them partner with other West End figures – From Here to Eternity is co-produced with Lee Menzies, Lloyd Webber’s Stephen Ward is co-produced with Robert Fox.
And as Paul said in a separate interview with So So Gay,
There is nowhere near enough support to encourage the development of new writing in London. There is no system in place whereby new shows are sought out, there is no system in place by which a writer can approach a high-profile or well-heeled producer – I mean, just look at the shows currently running in the West End, just look at the names behind those shows, and you’ll see that it’s a very closed shop indeed. And yet so many of these big producers will bemoan the fact that they can’t find the ‘next big thing’ – which is very annoying for those of us aware that no one with the clout to get anything done at a scale is truly looking for the ‘next big thing’.
Paul’s own upsetting experience with Molly Wobbly has had one beneficial result – he’s realised that there’s an appetite out there for the show. As he told me,
The one thing that has kept us going is the support we’ve had. People want to do it, and people want to see it – so it has been worth taking the risk to begin with.