Going To Space: Poppies

Poppies is a show set during WWI - it's also aiming to raise money for Poppy Scotland. Broadway Baby talks to Laura Kaye Thomson, director of Music Box Theatre.

It would be great to get audiences of more than 7 people (that’s the average Edinburgh audience right?!) and to raise some money for Poppy Scotland who we are supporting.

Tell us about your show

Poppies is a new folk musical set in the First World War. The story begins at the outbreak of war and follows a young folk band both on the front line and at home. It is about love, courage and how we cope and overcome challenges we never expected to face. I (Laura Kaye Thomson - director of Music Box Theatre) set up Music Box Theatre this year as a company dedicated to creating new musical theatre and I’m extremely glad to say that we will be premiering the show at this year’s Fringe. We are also working with NEXT UK who are bringing up a concert of new musical theatre in the final week of the fringe and we are also co-producing a musical theatre revue with theSpace with all the classics. So there’s something for everyone!

Why did you decide to take your show to Space UK this year?

I was planning on taking a show to the fringe last year and started speaking to Charles (Pamment) who I get on really well with. So this year when I was looking for a venue I went to him first. I love that theSpace supports a lot of musical theatre and in particular, new writing. I’m excited that we get to be involved in the beginnings of their new venue SpaceTriplex too!

What are you most looking forward to at this year’s festival?

My annual deep-fried mars bar. I only have one a year. I can’t face the amount of time in the gym I need to do afterwards to counteract it.

Why Edinburgh? What’s the attraction?

My parents are Scottish and most of my extended family live in Edinburgh so it feels like a second home to me which is nice. But the difference between being in Edinburgh in August and any other time of year is crazy. There’s just such a buzz and there is genuinely something for everyone. The locals love it, which is great, and year on year the festival proves that despite the cuts we may face, the arts are important to everyone.

Have you brought a show to the festival before?

I’ve come to the fringe as a performer on two occasions but I’ve never brought anything that I have produced or written before. Little bit scary…

What makes your show unique amongst the thousands of others at the festival?

Well we’re a musical, which is a surprisingly small section in the Fringe programme. It is also a piece of new writing and is made up of professional actors who all play an instrument. So if you put all those things together we then make up a very small section of the Fringe programme. And who doesn’t love seeing something original with wonderful actors playing live on stage? (That is a rhetorical question..)

What has been the biggest challenge in getting your show ready for Edinburgh?

Making myself sit down and write the darn thing! It started off just me deciding that I was going to take this idea I had, make it come to life and take it to the biggest arts festival in the world. Which was probably the craziest thing I’ve ever done. There’s been so much to get together and I’ve wanted to get as much of the admin, fundraising and logistics as possible done first which means writing and editing has at times taken a backseat. But we’re well underway now and it’s all becoming very real.

Have you been to other venues at the festival?

I have - I performed at the Pleasance and at C venues and seen shows in a whole host of venues over the years. I once saw a beautiful show called Rain which was on a little roof terrace at C. It seated about 15 people and had umbrellas hanging above the audience to act as a roof. I love how venues at Edinburgh all look so different and have their own personality. Going from the Spiegeltent to the Gilded Garden to Udderbelly - it’s such a feast for the senses!

How did you create your show?

I’ve been slowly working on the show for about two years now. Before drama school, I studied History at Nottingham University and the First World War was my special subject so I have always wanted to write a piece set in WW1. Having war as your backdrop means the stakes are high and the First World War was such a game changer - it’s quite amazing when you realise just how much the world changed because of those four years. Though I have been working on the script and music myself, our rehearsal process is collaborative. Workshopping and devising play a big part in the ethos of Music Box Theatre so the actors are expected to dive in and add whatever they can. Particularly with the music - I have written lyrics, main melody lines, the piano part and I have an idea of what I want the finished product to sound like but much like an actual folk band, each person adds their own vocal and instrumental music lines. I was in a folk band at University which helped me understand how to create music as an ensemble. Similarly, when I was rehearsing show I was in at the Edinburgh fringe back in 2012, we were allowed to see the script as a more of a skeleton and we were encourage to re-write and re-work as much as we wanted. It was the first time I’d worked like that and I loved it.

What’s the main thing you want to get out of the festival this year?

Well as it’s Music Box’s first venture, really I’d just like us to establish ourselves as a company. It would be great to get audiences of more than 7 people (that’s the average Edinburgh audience right?!) and to raise some money for Poppy Scotland who we are supporting. At the end of the day, the show is for the audience so mainly I just hope our audiences enjoy the show and feel they can recommend it to others.

Can you tell us a bit about your company’s background?

When I was completing my musical theatre training at Mountview, my MA dissertation was about the relationship between the writer and the actor and I realised how much I wanted to do both. I knew a good number of ‘straight’theatre companies who created their work as an ensemble but struggled to find many musical theatre companies doing the same. But I thought I’d give it a go anyway especially as I’d got involved in the new writing scene when setting up NEXT UK. There is a real buzz in the musical theatre world at the moment as it feels like things are starting to change. There’s more and more support for new writing - Matthew Warchus is bringing more musical theatre to the Old Vic and Sonia Friedman has announced she will be commissioning 15 new musicals over the next five years. The future is bright!

If your show does well in Edinburgh, what do you want to do with it next?

Ideally after Edinburgh, I’d love for us to be able to tour Poppies. There are venues across the country I’d love to perform in: The Lowry in Manchester, Lakeside Arts Centre in Nottingham, Leicester Curve, the Minack Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre and London fringe venues like the Arcola, Landor, Unicorn or Finborough. (Aim high eh!) I have a few more projects and ideas that I’m mulling over in my head which I’d like to see if I can get off the ground too. Most of these involve reaching out to communities not often associated with the typical musical theatre audience. Also doing workshops and bringing more musical theatre to schools. Schools will put on musicals and yet they are rarely covered in Theatre Studies syllabuses! There’s a challenge…

Show Name: Poppies

Production Company: Music Box Theatre

Venue: SpaceTriplex Big

Dates: 7th - 29th August

Times: 19:35

Twitter Handle: @mb_theatre

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this article has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now