10. INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR JOHN FULLJAMES
What was the starting point for the production?
Alasdair Middleton and Jonathan Dove wrote the piece and I was asked to direct it. The process started, for me, when Dick Bird (the designer) and I started to think about where to place the piece visually. So we looked at the world of fairytales and lots of pictures of princesses, Snow White etc. Then we tried to work out how to mix that world with a world where a father would call his daughter “princess” and then give her a tenner to go down to HMV.
The other big idea we wanted to think about was, who was the chorus? They have no particular characterisation in the script, but they are enquirers, investigators and this coheres with the piece’s concern with curiosity, with Flora’s curiosity. We became interested in the history of scientific enquiry through experimentation and developed the idea of the chorus as love scientists. We explored the period of public experimentation in eighteenth century and came across the invention of the orrery. The orrery is a model of the universe that was used in public demonstrations. This was an image that seemed to capture both the idea of enquiry and the theatricality of the piece.
How would you describe your role as a director in an opera company?
Everybody has a specific job to do: to make sure the music’s right; that it looks good; that everybody moves according to their character. I have no specific job beyond telling the story – and making sure that there is a coherence between all the other elements.
What would you say is the central story or idea of The Enchanted Pig?
11. INTERVIEW WITH WRITER ALASDAIR MIDDLETON
What was your starting point?
Quite a few things that Jonathan Dove and I have written together have been based on folk stories, so we read loads of folk tales and tried to find a few stories that were really good, that everyone thought would make a good story.
What in particular drew you to this story?
Mud. Jonathan and I were particularly taken with that!
We decided to take the second half of the script from another story. A Norwegian folk tale called East of the Sun and West of the Moon where the hero was originally a bear not a pig. I like that you think you know where the story is heading and then it changes direction. “No, I’m not going to be that story”.
What comes first the music or the words?
The words. We talk about it in general first of all, but nothing specific. Then I write the whole thing in a first draft. Any rewrites happen when Jonathan asks me to write a few more lines here or there. With this piece, he asked there to be as little recitative* as possible, to make everything a number. Every single moment in the story became a cue for a song.
So what do you structure your lyrics around when you are writing? How closely do you have to worry about the rhythms, etc?
I don’t even imagine the music when I am writing, or I imagine really rubbish music. Something like The Simpsons, just to establish a change of form.
What really shapes the writing is character. Imagining each character and if they were a song, what song would they be?
The cast comes from a mixture of opera and musical theatre backgrounds. Did you know which roles would be played by opera singers or musical theatre singers when you started writing?
I think we knew that the two main characters would be operatic. Jonathan imagined that what would interest you most about their story would be the really nice noise they were making!
What was the most difficult part of the writing process?
The soppy bits. I find them unbearable to write, Jonathan is really good at the soppy bits, but I find them embarrassing.
Why do you like writing opera?
You have to cut to the chase. You have to get on with it.
There are two things about writing for opera. You absolutely have to say what you mean or people won’t know what you’re on about. The other thing is that it is quite hard. Like doing a crossword puzzle. And that can make it fun. You can’t say the first thing you think of and you can’t just say one clever thing - you have to keep doing it.
What was the most exciting moment during the writing process?
The afternoon I worked out how to do the Sun, Moon and Wind. I remember realising “Blimey, they’re characters! They have to be real people…” Once I had seen the characters they should be, I could just get on with writing it.
12. INTERVIEW WITH COMPOSER JONATHAN DOVE
When you first read The Enchanted Pig what really struck you?
I loved the cosmic scope of the story – that Flora has to travel to the end of the Milky Way to get her husband back (with help from the Sun and the Moon and the North Wind). And the reversals – Flora obediently marries the Pig, expecting this to be horrible, and then he turns into a handsome prince and we think everything’s going to be OK. But then Flora is tricked by the Old Woman and she loses her husband…and a whole new part of the story begins.
Were there any musical ideas that were immediately triggered?
I didn’t hear any specific melodies straight away, but I could ‘smell’ all kinds of possibilities for musical scenes. And there are some striking sounds in the story – the sound of Flora’s iron shoes as she walks to the end of the world, or the frightening arrival of the Pig at the palace.
When you received the first draft from Alasdair, how did you start setting it to music? What was the first step?
Alasdair and I talked a lot about the story before he started writing, and agreed which were the scenes we wanted to include. We would describe the scenes to each other, and say what we thought was happening. When the libretto arrived, there were some surprises: he had quite a few new ideas while he was writing.
For a few months I would read the libretto from time to time, letting the scenes unfold in my mind’s eye and waiting for the music to emerge. Later on I would sit at the piano, watching the show in my imagination, and trying out different ideas until I got one I liked.
Alasdair mentioned that you requested very little recitative and more numbers. Why was that?
In opera, between arias (the ‘songs’) and choruses, there is sometimes a kind of rapid delivery, lightly accompanied, that is very close to the speed and contour of speech. It’s useful for getting through the plot, but it doesn’t have tunes, so it’s not much fun to listen to. I wanted the score for The Enchanted Pig to be as tuneful as possible.
How did you decide on the make-up of the orchestra, which instruments you would use?
I chose the accordion because it’s a folk instrument, and this is a folk-tale. The harp is wonderful for creating magic, and so are the pitched percussion instruments (glockenspiel, vibraphone). There are quite a lot of different percussion instruments, like bells for the wedding scene, drums for the soldiers and so on. The cello often goes with Flora, and the trombone announces the Pig. I wanted an instrument that could be fierce and frightening, and growl and snarl like a wild boar – but also be noble and heroic: the trombone can do all these different things. The double bass supports the ensemble, and does a lot of plucking to give a ‘lift’ to all of the dance-rhythms. But the most important instruments of all are the voices: the band is mainly there to accompany them.
Is it obvious when you see the libretto what sort of number each one will be?
No, you can’t always see where the songs will start and finish. Sometimes I try out different kinds of accompaniment for a scene until something happens and the scene and the music start to fit together. You can’t always see which lines are going to ‘take off’ – when I first read the libretto, I didn’t immediately see that “Isn’t love a beautiful thing?” would turn into the refrain of a waltz. But as soon as I read the opening lines (“Destiny’s needle is delicate”) I knew exactly what the tune should be.
Is Alasdair ever surprised by the music you write? Have you ever responded in an unexpected way?
Alasdair has some kind of music in his head when he writes the words, but I don’t want to know how it goes! Sometimes Alasdair has already built the repetitions into the scene, as in “Princess, marry the Pig.” I could see that was going to be a funny finale to the second act. At first glance, the words look like part of a jig. But then I thought it would somehow be funnier if it went “Princess (thump thump) marry the Pig” – which is a different kind of dance-rhythm.
What is your favourite number in the show at the moment?
What I really like is the range of different numbers and different kinds of music. The piece is quite long – an hour before the interval and another hour after it – so it’s important to have plenty of variety.
13. INTERVIEW WITH MUSICAL SUPERVISOR STUART STRATFORD
Can you describe your role in the production?
This production doesn’t have a conductor. There are six members in the orchestra: an accordion player, a percussionist, a harpist, trombone player, a cellist and a double bass, and the idea is that the accordion will lead the ensemble during performance. My job is to rehearse the piece with the orchestra and with the singers so that it is ready for performance. Once the production is in performance, I will watch and give notes.
When did you first become involved in the production?
A few weeks before rehearsal I went through the music with the singers. I was also involved with the audition process. We heard several singers and decided on the cast we have now.
How has the first week of rehearsal gone? What have you been doing?
Well, often the singers come to rehearsals having learnt all their parts individually. So we will tackle each scene, one at a time, and bring it all together. We speak through the text, making sure we know what the words mean and then sing through the music together, making sure all the notes are correct. Then we think about how it should work musically: where the stresses should be; should the articulation be on this word or that; should it be quieter there or louder; faster or slower; with more freedom or less? We will decide roughly on a ‘first draft’, and then I hand over to the director who puts the scene up on the floor and realises it spatially and physically. During rehearsals we might find we need to make some changes - maybe someone will need more time to get off stage, so we’ll try to sing the section slower or add in a pause. I suppose I’m in charge of refereeing. Everyone has their own ideas. I need to make sure that at the end of rehearsals I can draw the strings together musically to make sure everyone is heading in the same direction.
It is a lot of fun!
How is this production different to any other you’ve worked on?
It is different in the sense that we have four operatically trained voices and four musical theatre voices. Actually, a couple of the operatic singers have a background in cabaret, so there is more of a crossover between musical theatre and opera. It is very interesting to see how these different styles of singing can be integrated into a whole. The different singers have different needs and different strengths. Opera singers will start rehearsals note perfect. The musical theatre singers are great dancers, they are incredible at combining singing and movement. The production blends the different strengths of the singers to create a very exciting show.
14. INTERVIEW WITH DESIGNER DICK BIRD
How did the design for the set develop?
We were very interested in what had happened to the theatre during the change [the renovation of the Young Vic] and how it had opened up into a more ‘circular’ open space. I always loved the view that you got from the balcony in the old days, but the lighting grid was never far from your head. Now it has opened up [the grid has been moved higher up] like lots of layers on a wedding cake.
What I love about The Enchanted Pig is that you travel all around the universe. You start in a land that has an authentic, medieval feel to it and then it all changes. Flora has to go off and home becomes very small and far away. You leave earth and go into space, out into the universe and the milky way.
So, we became interested in using the theatre space almost like a model of the universe. I love that about theatre: that a small intimate space can become vast and monumental.
Another factor in designing the set was that, unusually for a Young Vic Christmas show, we were doing an opera. This means that because the singers are not amplified, there needs to be a particular relationship with the performers and the audience. The audience shouldn’t look at the back of a performer’s head for too long. Because they aren’t being miked, the singers need to stand in front of the audience [to be heard].
What is fantastic about the Young Vic is that it is built to be used in the round, which is a fantastic set-up for the space. We needed to find a design that allowed us to keep the sense of being in the round – that the action is all around you and your are all around the action – while allowing for the mechanical need of the actors to face the audience.
So we created a cylindrical mirror at the back of the set. I hope that it will be reflecting something most of the time, hopefully the audience. It restores a sense of being in the round.
We had to think about where to put the live band as well. You need to put it somewhere where it works acoustically and visually and in the Young Vic you don’t have conventional solutions like an orchestra pit. I love to see a band on stage.
How did you approach designing the costumes?
John [Fulljames, the director] and I came at it from quite different perspectives. I was caught up in the romantic, medieval fairy tale world, and he wanted to use a contemporary analogy. So we ended up with this great collision of both. All the costumes have medieval aspects and modern aspects: the princesses are medieval chatelaines* who shop down at H&M; the king goes off to war with a breast plate and boxing gloves.
I tried to be very fashion conscious with the princesses. I am fascinated by how having even a slight variation in the way you wear your school uniform can mean social death for the young audiences that come and see the Christmas show! My stepdaughter was very useful in helping me with this aspect. I got a lot of fashion tips from her!
How did you approach the challenge of visualising the sun, moon and north wind?
What is fascinating is how we personalise the sun and moon before we understand the scientific aspect of them. When we are little we are told about the man in the moon but as you grow up you become aware of new facts - how the shapes of the moon are caused, the crescent and full moon – and yet we never lose our capacity to personalise them.
Jonathan [the composer] and Alasdair [the librettist] have written very specific characters. The Moon is a very lonely, solitary, narcissistic man in a dressing gown. We saw him as a lighthouse keeper, polishing his reflecting lens for the sun to shine from, and guiding people at night.
Sun and Day are physically athletic types. You just know that the Sun wears nothing but gold bathing trunks!
The pig is very interesting. He has a real menace to him - very Beauty and the Beast. He’s not a little pink, Porky Pig-type pig, but a ferocious wild boar. All tusks, and hair and bristles. Quite fearsome.
What element of the design did you find most difficult?
The biggest challenge of all, which I think people forget when they see the finished product, is how to on put an epic piece of theatre of this scale on limited resources. The Young Vic manages to pool and share resources to make things happen. The cooperation between departments to try and make things happen that should cost a fortune, is wonderful. They punch well above their weight. But that is the Young Vic, that is the character of this building.
15. COSTUME DESIGNS
16. ASSISTANT DIRECTOR’S DIARY
MORNING: First day. Nerve racking.
The Model Box: we huddle around the 1:25 model of the theatre space. In the absence of designer (Dick Bird), director John Fulljames provides a summary of the ideas. The scientific exploration of the 18th century was a point of departure, particularly the invention of the orrery - a form of mechanical clock that charts the orbital journeys of the planets. The spherical mechanical set, with its two revolves both utilises the Young Vic’s unique auditorium, and enables the whole universe to be portrayed within the space. Stylistically, this show is set to cross the bounds of fairy tale and reality – in John’s words, ’fairytale meets H&M’.
We launch straight in with the ensemble music.
Many musical challenges are posed, not least that half of the company are trained in opera, and half musical theatre. The show is sung through. The score is dense. It quickly becomes evident that familiarisation with the music will take some time. Individual and chorus music coaching has been arranged to run alongside rehearsals for the first few weeks.
AFTERNOON: Launch straight into the opening of show. With choreographer Philippe Giraudeau we explore the entrance of the three princesses. We play with how to establish the idea of the set as an orrery; and of the role of the people in relation to that.
MORNING: We carry on where we left off yesterday with the addition of the Princesses’ father, King Hildebrand. The work is very text based – speaking the lyrics and trying to find the colours behind it. This seems to be a term from the opera world, and I am fascinated by this approach; we discuss what each person hears in the dense chorus moments, whether King Hildebrand can hear Flora’s prayer, for example. We decide he can.
AFTERNOON: A full company call. We start by doing more of the ensemble music. There are many choruses in the piece with some very difficult harmonies. It was decided not to have a conductor, but instead to have an musical director who will play the accordion and lead the accompaniment. This is unusual in opera and musical theatre and relies on the company having a very close sense of complicity, and the band being much more integrated into the show.
We have a physicality session with Philippe. It is really valuable to get everyone on their feet and interacting with one another, especially having had an intense session seated and pouring over the score. Philippe gets us reacting to different stimuli and working as a group. We try various things like being caught in a wind tunnel, copying other members of the group without looking at them and trying to build a human orrery.
We look at the first entrance - scientists carrying out an experiment on love. The question – what is love? We work on the physicality of the scientists, giving them each an object with which to test the princesses; stethoscopes, otoscopes, and other devices, which I fear we are not using correctly! I have a task to find more information on 18th century public experiments.
EVENING: We have a session with Joshua Dallas who plays the Moon. The idea is that the moon is a lighthouse keeper and will be seated at the top of a lighthouse looking out over the audience. We explore the loneliness of the lighthouse keeper and the loneliness of the moon. The music is tantalisingly beautiful. We work on the idea that the moon is sleepy and dreamy, compared to the sun who is very awake.
MORNING: We start with the Book of Fate and work backwards from there with the three princesses to the point at which the sisters get the key from Flora. We look at sibling rivalry and how that might come out in the sisters’ interactions with the book. Dot and Mab seem, on the face of it, to be like the stereotypical Ugly Sisters of fairy tales, but both actresses are keen to defend the three dimensionality and likeability of their characters! We also discuss whether the Book of Fate is really their horoscope and whether they believe in astrology and fate.
AFTERNOON: We start staging the entrance of the ‘army’ and re-jigging the choreography for the departure of King Hildebrand with the full company. Rodney and Byron (alternate Pig) will be playing a Caddy, Josh the boxing coach and Delroy a bouncer. The idea is that King Hildebrand is going off for a fun sports day with his mates.
We have a session on the North Winds and look at the accents. John Rawnsley talks about the flat tongues of the Lancashire accents (think Wallace and Gromit!) Some time is spent deciding what parts are recitative (spoken) and what sung.
MORNING: The girls work on the physicality of their characters. The eldest sister, Mab, is a chav and the middle sister, Dot, a goth. We talk a little about what that means, and I present some of the research that I have done. Flora seems to be most affected by nature.
AFTERNOON: We are working our way through the piece chronologically and have encouragingly hit Act 2 and the arrival of the kings and King Hildebrand. They will arrive in a golf cart as their victory carriage. But in the absence of the actual vechicle we work with chairs and start singing and stepping our way through ‘Isn’t love a beautiful thing’. It is a very catchy number and very funny too. Philippe begins work on the choreography. He wants to play against the lyric and use the physicality of the boxing and karate worlds of the two kings to express their marriage proposals.
EVENING: We work with Byron and Rodney on Pig’s physicality. There is an ongoing question of what trotters are. We explore the speed and restrictions of movement, and the body positioning; on toes and folding at the waist. We spend some time considering how the physiology of a pig affects their interaction, for example the placement of their eyes.
MORNING: We work through the arrival of Pig in the second half of Act 2, focusing on the company’s reaction to Pig, and storytelling from Flora’s perspective. How do we make Pig scary?
AFTERNOON: Ensemble music and sing through Act 1. With the remaining time we continue work on Act 2 and look physically at the lifts and how Pig takes Flora away.
MORNING: With Rodney and Caryll we look at the interaction between Princess and Pig, incorporating physicality. We look at the mud scenes and the bed scenes. Once again, the emphasis at this point has to be on getting it musically and emotionally accurate.
MORNING: With Byron and Anna (alternate cast)we go over the scenes that we looked at on Saturday – working on building the relationship. It is fascinating working with two casts and seeing how differently they interpret the same situations.
AFTERNOON: We look at ‘Marry the Pig’ and ‘The Wedding’- both big choreographic numbers. A busy afternoon
EVENING: Sun and Day – such a fun number and Delroy and Akiya bring such a vibrant energy to the rehearsal room! Very complex choreography: the aim is to make it as gymnastic as possible. We pursue the idea of the song that they are forever playing games with each other. We try out lots of different ideas.