Monday, 25 November 2013

S&S Award

"Find the words"

Set up in honour of and named after his parents Sidney and Sylvia, The S&S Award was created by Warner Brown as a celebration of new and as yet unproduced British musical theatre writing and held its inaugural award presentation at the St James Theatre on Sunday 24th November 2013. Don Black presented the prize to this year’s winners – Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie – for their show Forest Boy, of which we saw an extended excerpt but the audience were also treated to snippets from other shows in the running for this new prize.

Recent graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Gilmour and McKenzie based Forest Boy on the true 2011 story of a boy who appeared in Berlin claiming to have spent the last five years living in the woods with his father. But rather than a straight retelling, they use song and dance – movement director Emily-Jane Boyce contributing some excellent work – to explore the psychological journey of the young man, the troubled relationship with his parents, and the power of the imagination to invent and/or protect, as the truthfulness of his fantastical tale is probed by officials.

Directed by Amanda Gaughan, the performance demonstrated clearly the extraordinary potential of this show and how the musical form chosen is the perfect fit to tell their story. A particular gift for melodic brightness and beautifully blended harmonies were in evidence throughout but as the show goes into further development – the prize includes a week’s intensive workshopping and an industry showcase – I hope they maintain the marvellous intensity of the creative energy currently there. Tom Mackley’s lead performance was something special and this really will be a show to watch out for in the hopefully not-too distant future.

The first half saw the highlights from the other shows performed by a cracking line-up of West End performers and saw them deliver some sterling work, taking on complex material with little time to prepare – David Bedella’s patter song as Mr Toad a case in point – and bringing huge character and life into the material. All six shows featured here – either runners-up or specially commended – feel full of promise and further demonstrating the breadth of topics the genre of musical theatre is capable of tackling with insight and skill.

Whether the adult version of Toy Story suggested by Mark Carroll and Sarah Moyle’s The Attic, the classic imagery of Jenifer Toksvig and Alexander Rudd’s The Snow Queen or the tragic tale of The Stationmaster composed by Tim Connor and Susannah Pearse, it is hard not be excited by what could soon be in store on our stages. And after an evening like this, it might be easy to think that new musical theatre in the UK couldn’t be in ruder health but the challenge of getting shows sufficiently supported and into theatres remains all too real.

Which makes Warner Brown’s initiative in creating this prize a vital addition to the landscape and in providing such a showcase for the depth of talent on display here, offers real hope. And as if to prove the point, the evening was bookended by performances from the inimitable Gwyneth Herbert who will be making her own debut as a musical writer in the New Year with the eagerly anticipated The A-Z of Mrs P at the Southwark Playhouse. With innovative creatives like her, and Gilmour and McKenzie at the vanguard, the world of new musical theatre is surely in for an exciting time.

Originally written for The Public Reviews

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