York New Music Festival - Austen Without The Persuasion
Elaine Annable, Music Correspondent
The York New Musicals Festival was launched this year to encourage the writing and performing of musical theatre and serve as a showcase for a diverse array of new musicals.
Austen The Musical
Written, Composed and Directed by Rob Winlow
Austen The Musical, written, composed and directed by Rob Winlow, explores Jane's struggle to have her work published in a male dominated environment, her failed romances and her vow to reject a woman's conventional lifestyle in Georgian England.
I was very much looking forward to this musical and wanted to like it, but by the end I was extremely disappointed.
First of all the positives:
Austen The Musical featured a strong cast of actors who, despite the rehearsed reading nature of the performance, managed to convincingly portray their characters.
The dialogue was well acted and each scene led quite naturally on to the next.
The songs had tuneful melodies and were sung by actors with pleasant voices.
But now I come to what I feel is the main weakness of the musical - the anachronistic, jarring backing track.
Rather than supporting and enhancing the vocal line, the backing accompaniment was a major distraction and an irritation. Nearly every song was given the same dull, repetitive, slightly off the beat treatment with hardly any variation.
Added to this, song lyrics contained modern phrases and idioms, which were out of keeping with the time period in which the musical was set and were unintentionally funny.
On Jane's deathbed her mother sings "sorry for being a grumpy so and so." Unfortunately what should have been a desperately sad moment, was rather comical.
I had the urge to laugh on several more occasions - not the reaction that the composer was hoping for, I'm sure.
A note to the composer: it is not always necessary to find a word to rhyme at the end of alternate lines. But if you absolutely have to, try to choose one that isn't so easy to predict.
I hope that this musical is still a work in progress as I feel that with a more lyrical, sensitive vocal accompaniment and more appropriate lyrics, it could yet evolve into a much more enjoyable musical experience.
Written, composed and directed by Becky Callaghan
Francesca's Passenger is set in 1948 and follows the story of a quiet young woman called Francesca, who is trying to escape her troubled upbringing, which continues to haunt her.
She moves to a new town and starts working as a governess to try to slowly rebuild her life. But the household is full of it's own secrets and she is slowly changed by what is happening around her.
During the course of the musical, it becomes apparent that Francesca's Passenger is the ghost of her fiancée who was killed during the Second World War.
A parallel is drawn between Francesca and the father of the family who is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and is also haunted by his own memories of his time during the war. They are both dealing with their personal ghosts.
This rehearsed reading production was 40 minutes long and comprised of short extracts from 5 scenes, which gave us a taster of the work as a whole.
Each song was melodic and evocative and the simple broken chord piano accompaniment perfectly complemented and supported the vocal line.
The choice of lyrics was in keeping with the time in which it was set.
The extracts chosen were very well acted throughout, although I would have liked the songs to be placed a bit more in context.
I found the scene between the husband and wife particularly affecting. It contained some fine acting and ended with a lovely duet which cleverly referenced Rudyard Kipling's poem 'If you can keep your head'.
Becky Callaghan is talented young woman with an original idea which has great dramatic potential.
I would be very interested in seeing the completed production of Francesca's Passenger.
York New Music Festival - Austen Without The Persuasion, 7th August 2013, 9:25 AM