What do you get when you combine drunk dialling, beer goggles and some killer dance moves, with all the usual embarrassments and indiscretions of a house party? New musical Part A of course, storming its way into the Roundhouse this weekend as part of the Accidental Festival. Co-writers Freya Smith and Jack Williams tell AYT’s Laura Turner about being inspired by a night of sobriety at a drunken party, and how they armed themselves with just a guitar on their quest to address the need they saw for new voices in musical theatre.
Tell us a bit about Part A.
Smith: Part A is a musical which documents funny and awkward situations unfolding at a house party. Each song focuses on a single moment, whether it be a doe-eyed drunk dialler leaving an embarrassing voicemail on her ex’s phone, or a trio of chauvinists celebrating the power of beer goggles (and lamenting it the next morning). The show features a cast of six, who are accompanied by a band of four, on piano, guitar, bass and cajon. It was written by me and Jack, not long after we completed our degrees in 2011.
This particular performance is taking place as part of the Accidental Festival, which is organised by students at Central School of Speech and Drama, and aims to give emerging artists a platform to perform.
What’s your background in the industry?
Williams: We’re currently spending our time in the background of the industry.
Smith: We’re just two kids with a guitar, a pocketful of dreams and a worn out copy of Abba’s Greatest Hits, hoping to give Andrew Lloyd Webber a bloody good run for his money. But, to answer the question properly: before composing, we performed, mainly at university. I was involved in musicals and a cappella, and Jack was part of an improvised musical comedy troupe. After performing at the 2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe I decided that I wanted to create something for the 2012 festival, and I knew just the chap to do it with. Sadly, Sondheim was busy, so I asked Jack. Since receiving positive feedback from that initial run, we’ve been trying to publicise and perform the show as much as possible, while simultaneously working on new material.
And the show itself is a song cycle?
Smith: A song cycle is comprised of a collection of songs, generally without any dialogue in between. The songs are connected by a story, or theme – in our case it’s the setting of a house party. Rather than having a linear narrative, we wanted to provide a snapshot view of a single night, and the isolated moments which occur within it.
So does one of you write the lyrics and the other the music?
Smith: Unlike most writing partnerships (in which there’s a composer and separate lyricist) Jack and I dabble with both music and lyrics. This is due in part to neither of us wanting to be the Tim Rice of the pair (sorry Tim), but also – and mainly – because we both have musical and lyrical ideas that we want to explore further. We often write the draft of a song individually before presenting it to the other person, who then jams along and acts as editor and critic.
Williams: The role of ‘critic’ is one that Freya was born to play.
Musicals and movement often go hand in hand…
Williams: Certain songs are quite stylised – ‘Beer Goggles’ has some rat-pack clicking/toe tapping and ‘Dancing’ includes some funky moves that wouldn’t be out of place in Saturday Night Fever.
Smith: While the piece doesn’t feature a huge amount of choreography, movement definitely plays a significant part in defining a character and his/her predicament. There’s a bit of slumping, a lot of staggering, and – never fear – we even include the most beloved of all musical theatre staples: jazz hands.
What’s the rehearsal process been like?
Williams: With some of the songs we had a very firm idea of what we wanted them to be like, and as a result they remained largely unchanged in the transition from script to stage. However, with others, there was a lot more room for experimentation. We were still writing parts of the show during the rehearsal period, so the original cast had a fair bit of input, especially when it came to choreography. For instance, while rehearsing one of the songs, which centres on a party goer busting some drunken moves on the dance floor, we more or less improvised a body percussion breakdown, complete with beat boxing, chest thumping, floor stomping and a slap bass solo. Needless to say, it’s in the show.
Did you deliberately decide to tackle themes that young audiences can relate to and why?
Smith: I would say it was less of a conscious decision than a natural consequence of two (fairly) young people sitting in a room and jamming. We exploited situations and topics that were familiar to us. While writing the show, we were really just concentrating on amusing – and outwitting – each other. Fortunately for us, that translated to a wider audience.
What’s the message of the show?
Williams: The message of the show is to be yourself. And if you can’t be yourself, drink enough alcohol to become someone else!
Smith: There is a line near the end of the show where a character reflects on the party, and ponders: “Why do we do this to ourselves? We look like fools and feel like hell, It’s nothing but a song and dance, Let’s give sobriety a chance!” I could say that this was the overriding message of the show, but that would probably be a lie (especially as chorus members respond with an appalled “What?! – No!”)
I guess what the show promotes more than anything, is the inevitability with which awkward and undesirable situations occur, but the importance of being able to laugh at those moments (which, admittedly, may take some time).
Why should readers of AYT come and see the show?
Williams: Because it’s funny, feisty and (perhaps most importantly of all during these harsh economic times) just four pounds! That works out at less than thirty seven pence per song and just over two pence per chortle, four pence per guffaw or seven pence per belly laugh.
Smith: Also, if you’re a young person interested in theatre (which I’ll assume you are, as you’re on this site), then I think the idea of watching a production written by someone of your generation is naturally exciting. Of course, the reality may be different. But I think you should take that gamble.
Part A the Musical plays at the Roundhouse on Sunday 12 May 2013 at 6.40pm as part of the Accidental Festival. Find out more about the show at http://partamusical.wix.com/parta#! or on twitter at https://twitter.com/PartAMusical.