The frozen theatre wasteland of COVID-19 is likely to take a long time to thaw, but there are signs of melting as companies find innovative ways to compensate for the lack of live audiences and provide reassurances that theatre is ongoing. In The Wings takes a look at some shows that have been waiting there, longing for their opening nights, restrained by the shutdown.
In The Wings celebrates the work of artists with productions facing this predicament. Each episode is a live recording from an empty London theatre, filmed in one take with no editing or auto tuning. The aim is to provide viewers with the closest experience to being in the audience watching the show.
The series was filmed earlier this month in accordance with strict social distancing guidelines. The team has selected four musicals: No Limits, Legends of Arahma, Gretel! and Dorian: A Rock Musical. Each show forms an episode in which one of the creatives involved in the production will be interviewed by Olivier Award-winning composer Richard Thomas, famous for Jerry Springer: The Opera and the lyrics to Made in Dagenham. The live performances will be provided by Dougie Carter (Les Misérables; Sunset Boulevard), Aaron Lee Lambert (Hamilton; Miss Saigon; Sweeney Todd), Steph Parry (Mamma Mia; 42nd Street) and Laura Pick (Wicked; The Sound of Music). With a live backing band they will be performing numbers from the four featured shows and other well-known West End musicals.
The series is co-produced by two celebrated OFFIE nominees, set designer Justin Williams and musical director Henry Brennan. Williams says of the project, “It’s a blur now as to how it came about. I remember that Henry and I spent a few days lamenting how much we were missing creative challenges and how miserable we felt - him with a cancelled UK tour and me with an aborted trip to New York to pitch a set design. We drummed up a master plan that impressed people who looked over it for us and we turned it around in just under two weeks”. Missing the buzz of work was at the heart of Brennan’s commitment to this idea. “In the Wings has been such a brilliant project to work on; one of the main things I’ve been missing in this lockdown has been the excitement you get from creating something live with other performers and musicians, so getting to do that again was such a thrill for me, especially with the hugely talented cast we managed to assemble.”
Episode one features Sam Thomas, composer of the new song-cycle No Limits, which in the current environment should be an inspirational piece. It follows the aspirations of characters who reject the idea that they are not keeping up with their peers and instead assert their belief in themselves and strive for a better tomorrow, with stories of the ‘heartfelt, soul-baring and even kinky variety’.
The second episode highlights Legends of Arahma with composer Joe Purdue. This is a contrasting epic tale of adventure in which two clans, divided by war, decide the fate of their natural world in a battle surrounded by the mystery of a young man named Copernicus Danbury and his long-lost father.
The selected shows are markedly different from each other, yet at times aspects of their themes overlap, displaying the breadth of interpretations that entice composers and writers such as Liv Ward to create new works. She is next in the series and talks about her latest piece, Gretel! War remains the context, but this time in 1940’s England. A young girl, faced with evacuation, finds her mother’s abandoned copy of Hansel and Gretel and a world of fantasy opens up for her. As she deals with the realities of war and a controlling mother, Gretel is up against an ambitious witch and some mischievous fairies. As in No Limits, this show proclaims that with the powers of imagination and determination we can determine our own destiny.
Musical Director Henry Brennan completes the series with Dorian: A Rock Musical.This take on the classic tale features Dorian Gray’s encounters with those who would use and abuse him, but, more devastatingly, with his own conscience and the decisions he must make in his bid to reconcile the portrait with reality.
OFFIE Award-winning video designer Ben Bull was also on the production team and his observations are in tune with the message of hope contained in the shows. “It’s amazing,” he says “how, in adversity, creativity can save the day. We were able to complete the project very modestly, but with what I think are thrilling outcomes. It’s been tough, but the reward is having live music celebrate new songwriting with the band and West End performers.”
Where to watch In The Wings
The first episode of In The Wings airs this Friday, 12th June and can be viewed through the following media: