Molly, the co-writer and director/producer of 'A Very Brexit Musical', describes the process of taking a show to the Fringe.
If I were to describe our Edinburgh Fringe experience in three words, they would be hectic, stressful and fulfilling. After our debut run in November 2017, I, perhaps naively, thought taking A Very Brexit Musical to the Fringe would be a breeze. We’d already done one run, surely all we needed to do was pack it into a van to take up to Edinburgh, right? Wrong! The process started not long after we finished our Cambridge performances, when, on the first of January 2018, we submitted our first venue application. This involved compiling all the existing information about our show into one of our favourite Google Sheets, alongside editing the script down to its current 1 hour run time. Three months later we got our first response, and then slowly but surely 2, 3, 4 more responses found their way into our emails. Each of these offered different combinations of dates, times and spaces, and it was then up to us to decide what we thought would best suit the show.
We were fairly determined to lug our centre-piece Brexit bus up to Edinburgh, which had been such an important part of our bid when we applied to Cambridge’s Brickhouse Theatre Company in July 2017, and again when we applied to Fringe venues this year. Consequently, storage space and longer get-in times were crucial for us. We have ended up in a wonderful Just The Tonic venue, in which we are able to use the bus to create additional backstage space as well as bring colour and perspective to the stage. This of course would have been difficult to plan without a trip to the venue itself, which up until April, had only been viewed on some very complicated floor plans! This called for one thing and one thing only: a trip up to Edinburgh… in exam term! Well, we thought it was an excellent idea, and so Peter (Technical Director), Anthony (Co-Writer) and I piled onto a 5am train and headed north for a whistle-stop tour of what is going to be our home for the whole month of August.
Once reassured that we could take at least some of our beloved bus up to Edinburgh, we got on with the casting process back in Cambridge. Over three days, we saw so much talent! It was both incredible and humbling to see so many people excited about the show and wanting to be a part of the action. One of the hardest parts of being Director/Producer is whittling the numbers down to fill the roles available, but it has to be said, we have found ourselves with a group of 25 committed, creative and hard-working people, who are going bring smiles to a lot of faces when we take to the stage in less than three weeks.
Alongside organising the obvious components of a show, we then found ourselves up against even more challenges that we had ever even comprehended. Copyright. Insurance. Contracts. Tenancy agreements. You name it, and I can guarantee we will have learned how to deal with it at some point along the way! Taking a show to the Fringe is in no way an easy ride. For the last three months we have spent at least 2 hours a day negotiating all of the different logistics that have allowed us to take A Very Brexit Musical to Edinburgh. If university hasn’t taught me to be an adult, then this certainly has! Who’d have thought I’d exchange letters with David Dimbleby? Or spend three days negotiating the cost of trailer hire? Or send 107 emails to different media providers? It’s been a full-time job to say the least, and not one I could have done alone. At a number of points, taking A Very Brexit Musical up to the Fringe could have been a big, fat no deal for us, and I therefore want to thank a number of key individuals, who we definitely couldn’t have managed without!
Firstly, Helena, who has managed the publicity campaign so efficiently, and who is one of the main reasons we have sold so many tickets in advance of arriving in Edinburgh. To Sam and Rosa, who have supported us throughout the casting process and our initial Cambridge rehearsal period. They have had a big creative input, which has kept the show looking so fresh. To my family, for offering all kinds of support, including cooking for 25 people during our final week of rehearsals in Norwich. And my final thanks go to my two boys, Peter and Anthony! You have both kept me sane and continue to offer so much knowledge, which has allowed for a number of incredibly crazy ideas to come to life. Anthony, you are a musical genius and I am so happy you shared my enthusiasm for writing this show.
Edinburgh, we are coming for you, and I can’t wait for everyone’s hard work to pay off when we undoubtedly have beaming audiences. EU all deserve it! And, yes, the script is full of puns like that.
The show's Assistant Musical Director talks showtunes, swing numbers and saxophone solos.
It’s a real delight for me to be able to work with our amazing cast through rehearsing for the Fringe run of ‘A Very Brexit Musical’. While Anthony has been busy single-handedly reworking and reorchestrating the entire score – as well as writing a whole new number to open the show! – I’ve been rehearsing with the actors to bring all the songs to life. With a mix of returning and new cast members, I’m consistently impressed with the level of dedication and enthusiasm everyone is throwing into this production, and we’re able to put together some truly spectacular musical moments.
The fantastic songs that Anthony and Molly have written cover a wide range of genres, and so require both the cast and band to handle some pretty rapid shifts in musical style – from Cavid Dameron’s mournful ballad, to Mheresa Tay’s sultry swing number, to big showtune chorus numbers. It’s been a lot of fun to see how the actors bring so much character to these songs, particularly when inhabiting some fairly outlandish political caricatures! But amongst all the turmoil of the referendum, the show also follows the relationship of journalists Peter and Jen; in portraying these characters, Rory and Emily have been able to create some really touching moments as the songs chart their key emotional turning points.
On top of this, the cast have thrown themselves into learning Rosa’s showstopping dance routines, including lifts, extended tap breaks, and even some wheelie-chair choreography. We’ve also got a fantastically talented eight-piece band, who bring a huge amount of energy to every song and really make the show come to life. I’m really looking forward to getting up to Edinburgh and performing with the other musicians every night – plus, Anthony has written me several saxophone solos to keep me happy!
The whole team behind ‘A Very Brexit Musical’ have put a huge amount of hard work into bringing this show to the Fringe. Our cast have already been able to put so much together in between exams and other end of term turmoil that I can’t wait to see what happens when they actually get on stage together. It promises to be incredibly exciting – so make sure you’re in Edinburgh with us and don’t miss out!
The show's co-writer and musical director, Anthony Gray, reflects on the sentiment behind 'A Very Brexit Musical'.
When Molly and I decided we were going to write a show focusing on Brexit, the country was in the beginnings of the aftermath of the referendum campaigns. We’d seen all the well-trodden stereotypes of both campaigns and the satirical news outlets were making the most of these. But they had missed something. There were the standard political points and the general liberal consensus of the result being hugely damaging for the arts industry. In some quarters, the focus of satire was on the individual events that shaped both campaigns, but the clear question which wasn’t being asked was, ‘How did this result, and this toxic political landscape, come to pass?’
That was always the aim of our show: to present one angle from which this question could be answered. This is the media’s representation of politics, politicians and assumptions of the public. This is a very important topic in many ways, in the context of the continual existence of the state broadcaster, the BBC and the license fee, alongside the monopoly of news outlets controlled by Rupert Murdoch and very few others.
Of course, the show is silly in many ways. The farcical spy duo of Joris Bohnson and Figel Narage, and the salacious antics of Mheresa Tay are purely to provide comic relief to the story without suggesting any political point in themselves. But the importance of media representations remains central to the show.
In the past three days, both David Davis (who unfortunately doesn’t feature, partly as you can’t swap his name around!) and Boris Johnson have left their cabinet posts over the Chequers agreement. The uproar of this decision, as well as the hugely divided nature of the national conversation about ‘Hard Brexit’, ‘Soft Brexit’, ‘No Deal Brexit’ and a ‘People’s Vote’, has made me feel a real sense of nostalgia when I read lines of the script or hear the show’s music. The show is from a simpler time when the debate wasn’t as vitriolic or so virulent, and this has given me a whole new perspective on it. Cavid Dameron’s speech on the front steps of 10, Downing Street announcing the referendum feels both foreboding, thanks to everything that has since taken place, but also wistful and sentimental.
At Edinburgh, and also (for one night only!) in Norwich, I think the audiences will also feel this nostalgia, and come to think differently not only about Brexit, but about how far we’ve come as a country in this short time. The show does not make political points. It does not choose either Remain or Leave but, especially now, encourages everyone to think about the widespread influence of political discourse, and how we can change our political destiny in such a short space of time.
Of course I want to say thank you to all the cast, crew and band for everything they’ve done so far to help get the show ready for a month in Edinburgh. My thanks go especially to Sam Kirby for all his help rehearsing music with the cast and band, to Helena Fox for doing a wonderful job helping to publicise the show, to Peter Lotts for being not only the fount of all technical knowledge, but a truly calming presence to everyone involved and to Rosa Thomas both for her wonderful choreography and her approachable and caring attitude. Mostly though, I want to thank Molly for balancing a huge amount of the production of the show with the directing of the new cast, the editing of the show for Edinburgh and for agreeing to learn the Keys 3 part that I only finished writing 4 days ago!
I would hugely encourage everyone in Edinburgh during August to come and see the show, not for any political reason, but for an hour of silliness, brilliant acting and singing, and also to reflect on those perilous months of campaigning that have brought us to where we are today. Whatever your political opinions, I hope we can present Brexit in a new light and entertain you along the way!
As a choreographer, there’s nothing more exciting than being given an original score and being able to let your imagination run riot without any preconceived ideas. Molly and Anthony have put a lot of trust in me; as ‘A Very Brexit Musical’ is their creation I felt a lot of pressure initially to make sure the dance was up to scratch. As soon as I listened to the music with the band, I knew that creating exciting, varied routines would not be difficult. Both the original cast and the Fringe cast are dedicated and talented, as are the production team, who make the dances look even more spectacular.
Many of the dances are character-driven so rely on the actor’s knowledge and feel of the character to bring them to life. Joris Bohnson and Figel Narage’s duet and Mheresa Tay’s solo are two particularly hilarious routines which the actors take to a whole new level through characterisation.
The Brexit Chorus and The Vote are big numbers where we could experiment with lifts, leap-frogging, props, and even tap dancing! The beauty of The Vote, which ends the show, is that the serious consequences of the referendum are not by any means glossed over by cheesy smiles and jazz hands. The simplicity of the ending is moving, beautiful and thought-provoking and will stay with the audience long after the show ends.
The biggest challenge of re-rehearsing the dances for the Fringe run is that I have to work from an exam-addled memory and the rough diagrams I made when notating the movement. The new cast have been extremely patient with me and although the rehearsals have been pushed for time, I’m seriously impressed with where they’ve got to. I love watching how the dances evolve in every rehearsal and in each performance. I’ve no doubt that over the course of the month they will reach new heights of insane creativity and genius that will make the audience quite literally gasp out loud. So get your ass up (or down) to Edinburgh to see something which is bound to be unforgettable!
I never thought I would have written a musical, but when Molly and I were discussing politics and other shows we’d been to see one evening, we put two and two together and here we are! It’s been fantastic fun writing the show and we’re very lucky to have such an incredibly talented cast getting the impressions down to a tee. Musical Directing has been an absolute pleasure as the cast have learnt their songs by the time they turn up to learn them; such is their enthusiasm for the project. We’re really glad we can bring our ideas to life and show them to you, the audience. Buy your tickets now as they’re going fast!
– – –
Anthony is a final year music student at Robinson, where he is also the Senior Organ Scholar. He has been involved in a number of Brickhouse Theatre productions, including Joseph (Musical Director) and Back to the 80s (Assistant Musical Director). Alongside shows at Robinson, he has also been involved in the ADC production of The Duchess of Malfi (Musical Director) as well as two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017 (Don’t Ever Change (Musical Director) and Trump’d (Co-Musical Director)). Alongside his theatre work, he plays for the college choir every week, as well as St. John’s Voices at St. John’s College. Last year he was President of the Robinson College Music Society, organising the weekly recital programme. He also co-founded and directs The Robinson Consort. This is the first time he has written an original score for a theatre production, and has greatly enjoyed working with such a wonderful cast, band and production team.
The idea to write A Very Brexit Musical came to us about 10 months ago when we were walking home from a concert. For a long time after that we jotted down ideas regarding set, characters and songs until it eventually got to the summer holidays. We sat down for about 3 weeks in total and wrote and planned solidly. The writing process was an absolute joy, we loved bouncing ideas for the script and score off each other and it was a real team effort. My favourite moments in fact are when Anthony and I are able to sit at the piano together and play our own music. It’s a very rewarding experience. Directing has been equally as fun. It’s been great to work on characterisation with the cast, who have all shared a similar vision of the scenes to us. It’s a light-hearted and fun-filled musical with lots of charming characters. We try to show sides of politicians that the public wouldn’t normally see and the focus is on their stories throughout, rather than any bold political claims. There really is something for everyone with the music and dances being so varied, and I can’t wait to share the show with everyone else.
– – –
Molly is a second year Geographer from Robinson College. She has always had a love for music and acting, and has gotten involved with many related opportunities since arriving at The Univsersity of Cambridge, both at Brickhouse Theatre Company and the ADC. Previously, Molly has been in 1984 (Julia) and Les Miserables (Madame Thernadier). She has also been involved in National Youth Theatre productions for a number of years, and made her Cambridge debut in Joseph this time last year as the baker, performing again as Eileen (Back to the 80s) the following term. When not on stage, Molly is a choral scholar with Robinson Chapel Choir, President of Robinson College Music Society, and Publicity Director for the Brickhouse Theatre Company. She is now experiencing the stage from a new perspective, and has found it greatly rewarding to co-write and direct an original show.