What’s your background?
I have written and produced musicals since 2014 notably: The Perfect City a show about the creation of Pennsylvania by William Penn which toured South East England and Ferguson’s Gang in 2018 about the women who raised funds to save the National Trust, which was a total sell out when it was staged in Guildford, Surrey.
Where did the idea of writing a musical based around the building of Chesterfield’s iconic ‘Crooked Spire’ come from?
We can’t take all the credit for that…the musical is actually inspired by a murder mystery written by the historic novelist Chris Nickson. Being a bit of history buff, I picked up his book in Waterstones and couldn’t put it down! My father in law enjoyed it and persuaded me to take him to all the town’s streets named in the book. Mary adapted the book for the stage and obviously the songs Peter and I have written help tell the story too.
So, what’s the musical about?
It revolves around the mystery of who killed the master carpenter. The main protagonist, John, is a carpenter who’s come to Chesterfield and gets embroiled in the murder case. As one of the suspects, he has no choice but to find the killer (with the help of his new friends) to try and clear his name.
Although it’s set in the 1360’s as the town is recovering from the plague, many of the themes in the play - resilience (following a pandemic), friendship and hope for a brighter future - will really resonate with audiences today.
There’s something for all generations in the story too. One of the main characters is an inquisitive young lad Walter, who befriends our hero, there’s reference to an ‘old flame’, as well as the flourishing of young love, alongside the main murder mystery theme. There’s some gentle bawdiness in places, but we’ve purposefully written it to be suitable for younger ages too. A proper family friendly show.
How do you and Peter work together? Does one of you write the lyrics and the other compose the music?
We’re a bit Lennon and McCartney in the way that we work. Sometimes Peter comes up with the music and I’ll write the words, or we create a melody together based on some lyrics one of us has started to write and the song kind of evolves.
The interesting part is working with Mary to ensure that each song works within the play as a whole – either by providing additional information for the audience or provoking a particular emotion at a certain point in the storyline.
How grateful are you for the funding from Arts Council England?
It’s hard to believe when that email comes through entitled ‘grant offer’; I was totally dumbfounded!
Even though an incredible amount of work had to go into the application. This time it paid off. There’s also a lot of hard work to do up to the show’s run in May: getting the stage set created, all the rehearsals and marketing, but I’m just thrilled to be able to share this story which celebrates Chesterfield’s history and people. It’s my love letter to Chesterfield.
What is it about musicals that floats your boat?
I’ll never forget going to see Starlight Express on the stage as a young lad – all these actors whizzing around the audience well before the concept of ‘immersive theatre’ was born. I was blown away. And there’s something really powerful about the collective experience of seeing a show. I think many people are craving that after being in lockdown. It’s a fantastic form of storytelling, which can move you across the spectrum of emotions through a performance.