Interview: founder of New UK Musicals and composer extraordinaire Darren Clark

As new digital sheet music store New UK Musicals launches, I talk with multi-award winning composer & lyricist Darren Clark about the site and his career

Darren Clark has been responsible for two of my favourite shows of recent years in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Wicker Husband so I was interested to discover that he has been keeping very busy during lockdown, creating New UK Musicals

New UK Musicals is an online platform where you will be able to purchase sheet music from some of the best new musical theatre writers working in the UK today. It’s a digital store where performers and fans can listen to online samples, purchase fresh, new songs and also connect with the writers who create them.

Designed and built during lockdown, the site launches with a competition for performers who will be able to buy and download selected songs from the site and upload videos of themselves performing to New UK Musicals. First prize includes a number of free downloads from the site as well as the opportunity to perform alongside West End stars in a special edition of Adam Lenson’s SIGNAL Online Concert Series celebrating the work of these writers on the 16th June.

Writers represented on the site include: Finn Anderson (Islander), Rebecca Applin (Jabberwocky), Bateman & Conley (The Sorrows of Satan), Ed Bell (My 80 Year Old Boyfriend), Darren Clark (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), Elliot Davis (Loserville), Gus Gowland (Pieces of String), Teresa Howard (I Capture the Castle), Richy Hughes (Superhero), Carl Miller (Wasted), Noisemaker (My Left Right Foot), Eamonn O’Dwyer (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow), Susannah Pearse (Jabberwocky), Victoria Saxton (Marriage a la Mode), Amir Shoenfeld (Benny in Beta), Emily Rose Simons (Confessions of a Rabbi’s Daughter), Tim Sutton (The Secret Garden), Stiles & Drewe (The Wind in the Willows), Webborn & Finn (The Clockmaker’s Daughter) and Wigmore and Green (Van Winkle). Continue reading “Interview: founder of New UK Musicals and composer extraordinaire Darren Clark”

Review: The Wicker Husband, Watermill Theatre

Gorgeous new folk musical The Wicker Husband is perfectly situated at the Watermill Theatre and simply must be given more opportunity to soar post-crisis

“Once upon a withy on the edge of a deep damp swamp, nestled in the arms of a winding river, stood a pretty little town…”

Snuck in under the radar for this one as I’ve been looking forward to The Wicker Husband for a long time. Four years in fact, since I first heard a snippet of the score but as ever in the world of writing a new musical, the show has been in development for more than twice that time. Further upping my anticipation was the success of composer/lyricist Darren Clark’s last major project The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which was only my very favourite show of last year.

Together with book-writer Rhys Jennings, their adaptation of a short story by Ursula Wills-Jones has a bewitching quality that is eerily compelling and in the tradition of all the best fairy tales, has no problem in going very dark. Along with my mortal fear of eerily humanoid puppets, it makes for a much more chilling night at the theatre (for me, at least) but one which is ultimately beautifully human too, as Charlotte Westenra’s production reminds us why fables have endured for so long. Continue reading “Review: The Wicker Husband, Watermill Theatre”

20 shows to look forward to in 2020

I look ahead to some of the 2020 shows exciting me most with an emphasis away from the West End, looking mostly instead at the London fringe and across the UK 

Sure, there’s all sorts of big ticket shows coming to London in 2020 (with big ticket prices too to go with their big names), like Sunday in the Park with George with Jake Gyllenhaal, Sister Act with Whoopi Goldberg, A Doll’s House with Jessica Chastain. But there’s so much more to discover if you venture away from Shaftesbury Avenue…

1 The Glass Menagerie, Odéon–Théâtre de l’Europe at the Barbican
Not that I want to be predictable at all but Isabelle Huppert! Acting in French! Right in front of you! I understand that van Hove-fatigue might be setting in for people but only a FOOL would pass up the chance to see one of our greatest living actors. A FOOL! 

2 The Glass Menagerie, Royal Exchange
And if you wanted to do a direct compare and contrast, Atri Banerjee’s revival for the Royal Exchange will be worth checking out too for an alternative perspective. 

3 The Wicker Husband, Watermill
Even before Benjamin Button tore my heart apart, I was excited for the arrival of this new musical by Rhys Jennings and Darren Clark but now, the bar has been raised even higher. And the gorgeous intimacy of the Watermill feels like a perfect fit.


4 Children of Nora, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam
Me: “I don’t need any more Ibsen in my life”
Also me: Robert Icke revisiting the world of A Doll’s House through the eyes of the next generation? Yes please.

5 Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
I don’t think I thought this delicious Koomin and Dimond musical would ever actually return, so this short run in the UK ahead of a US tour feels like a real blessing. Now where did I put my badge?
Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2020”

Review: The Dresser, Richmond/Duke of York’s

“Hate the critics? I have nothing but compassion for them. How can one hate the crippled, the mentally deficient, and the dead?”

The outdated ramblings of a doddery old man – funny how art can reflect life… Any opinion I might have had about Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser inevitably comes tainted with his apparent inability to open his mouth without spouting some kind of crap or other. Last month it was claiming casting women in male Shakespearean roles as “astonishingly stupid”, earlier this year it was using his will to ban women from playing the lead role in this very play. At 81, he’s clearly of a different generation but I’m certainly not inclined to indulge him in a way one might one’s own casually intolerant older relations.

His 1980 play The Dresser is based on his own experiences as a personal stagehand to actor-manager Sir Donald Wolfit and closely too. Wolfit was known for his wartime Shakespearean tours, particularly his King Lear, and so Harwood gives us an increasingly decrepit thesp (Ken Stott) on an interminable regional rep tour in the midst of the Second World War. ‘Sir’ is due onstage (in Lear, natch) and his long-suffering dresser Norman (Reece Shearsmith) is the only one who can get him there, for he is caught in the throes of mental and physical disintegration. Continue reading “Review: The Dresser, Richmond/Duke of York’s”

Support new musical theatre writing – The Wicker Husband

“She sang a melody of the hope of the springtime

It’s not often that you’ll find me championing the cause of puppetry on here but in The Wicker Husband, a new folk musical based on an original short story by Ursula Wills-Jones, we just have such a thing. With book and story by Rhys Jennings and music and lyrics by Darren Clark, The Wicker Husband will be an unconventional musical combining puppetry, folk music and dance to weave the tale of an Ugly Girl and her understanding of the cruel world she lives in. It is the story the Outsider, of self-acceptance in a society that tells us what it is to be “Ugly”.

And if that sounds like your cup of tea, then you’re in luck. As the guys launched an online crowdfunding campaign for further development of the project and as it stands, have reached well over a third of their target. In the cutthroat world of commercial theatre, especially musical theatre, you have to admire the determination of the creative team, bolstered by director/dramaturg Charlotte Westernra, in finding alternative ways to develop their work. The campaign is scheduled to end on 2nd April and it would be fantastic to see them reach their goals so watch the story-so-far video below and then head over to http://bit.ly/wickerhusband to see the range of incentives to help you make your mind up on how much you want to donate! Continue reading “Support new musical theatre writing – The Wicker Husband”

Review: Cymbeline, Tabard Theatre

“Hath Britain all the sun that shines?”

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s later plays, occupying an uneasy middle ground between tragedy, romance, comedy with a loose smattering of history thrown in for good measure and thus garnering the reputation as one of his problem plays. New London-based theatre company Avanti have taken up the challenge with their 1970s re-imagining though which is currently playing at the Tabard Theatre in West London.

It’s essentially a romance, with tragic overtones, focusing on Imogen, a princess of Britain who has secretly married her lowly childhood friend Posthumus, frustrating the plans of her wicked (step)mother. Upon finding out, her father King Cymbeline banishes him from the kingdom, and thus a whole merry load of confusions start. Posthumus is tricked into believing Imogen has been unfaithful and orders her murder, Imogen is forewarned and dispatched to Wales in the guise of a boy, there she meets two random boys who turn out to have a very strong connection to her, more betrayals and murder ensue, there’s a bit of a war, the god Jupiter pops down for a chat and then there’s an incredibly neat, yet interminably long ending in which every single plot strand is recapped and then resolved.

Perhaps it is not the most considered of opinions but it is all a bit bonkers really, incorporating so many Shakespearean devices that are familiar to us from other plays – cross-dessing princesses, potions that feign death, long-lost children, wagers about virtue – and folding them all into the one huge narrative, but matters aren’t necessarily helped by some of the creative decisions. It is set in a loose version of the 70s, all flares and flowery shirts, and in large part this is surprisingly effective: Posthumus’ defiance of society’s norm, Imogen’s rebellion against the convention’s of her parents’ generation, the singing of the young princes over a dead body feels a heartbeat away from Godspell, but these all fit well with the concept. It is less successful later on though when history kicks in as Rome invades Britain, some vaguely fascist-looking uniforms appearing lending a slightly surreal air.

Continue reading “Review: Cymbeline, Tabard Theatre”

Review: The Rivals, Richmond Theatre

“There’s a little intricate hussy for you!”

One of my theatrical highlights of the year so far was Celia Imrie in a sparkling production of The Rivals which variously featured audience interaction, recorders, Beyoncé songs and Sam Swainsbury sat on my lap for a while. So, when the Theatre Royal Bath production to be directed by Sir Peter Hall was announced, I was intrigued to see how it would match up. And whilst there is little of the relaxed informality of that Southwark Playhouse version, Hall sticks to what he knows best, gimmick-free, perfectly-cast productions which focus on the writing.

The Rivals is a comedy of manners, set in 18th century Bath amongst the fashionable élite who are there to take the waters and maybe a little gossip and romance on the side. Lydia Languish longs for a romantic elopement such as those of which she has read rather than a conventional marriage and so in order to win her hand, Captain Absolute disguises himself as an impoverished soldier and woos her, despite the disapproval of her guardian, Mrs Malaprop who has her own romantic designs. But Absolute has two rivals for Miss Languish, whose cousin has her own lovelife problems which we observe and the servants are playing their own games resulting in much comedy, chaos and confusion. Continue reading “Review: The Rivals, Richmond Theatre”