Ipswich: New Wolsey goes pop for new show Midsummer Songs

Composer and musical director Ben Goddard, Yvette Robinson, Peter Peverley, Adam Keast and Alex Bour

Composer and musical director Ben Goddard, Yvette Robinson, Peter Peverley, Adam Keast and Alex Bourne in rehearsals for Midsummer Songs at the New Wolsey Theatre. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

Ipswich’s New Wolsey Theatre is known for its actor-musician pieces. Writer and director Peter Rowe and composer and musical director Ben Goddard are keen to point out new show Midsummer Songs, making its world premiere next week, isn’t a musical as such - it’s a play that just happens to have music in it.

Writer and director Peter Rowe in rehearsals for Midsummer Songs at the New Wolsey Theatre. Photo: M

Writer and director Peter Rowe in rehearsals for Midsummer Songs at the New Wolsey Theatre. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

“That’s the big unknown, whether an audience that has seen our rock ‘n’ roll pantos, has loved us doing actor-musican versions of familiar shows, will come to see something that’s brand new,” says Goddard. “I’m sure they’ll have a good time with it, I know it’s going to be a very exciting watch; but it’s two unknown writers and it’s an unknown title so there isn’t the hook of, say, Marc Bolan’s songs...”

Rowe agrees the trick is going to be drawing audiences in given it’s an original story with original songs.

“Ben’s written some great, catchy tunes. One of the cast members said ‘they’re all new but they feel familiar’. The success of the show will be how well the music flows in and out of the action and how that works with a company of actor musicians,” he says, admitting there are extra nerves this time around.

“It’s only exciting if it’s scary though,” he smiles.

Glenn Carter and Hannah Jarrett-Scott in rehearsals for Midsummer Songs at the New Wolsey Theatre. P

Glenn Carter and Hannah Jarrett-Scott in rehearsals for Midsummer Songs at the New Wolsey Theatre. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

Goddard says anybody who’s ever sat around a campfire or been in a pub when somebody’s whipped out an acoustic guitar will get it.

“The music is deliberately quite poppy because the lead character is kind of a pop writer. So it’s not like coming to see a piece of musical theatre... this should be, and I hope is, immediately accessible and enjoyable for the audience.”

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Midsummer Songs revolves around a bunch of mates who celebrated the end of their university career with an hedonistic week halfway up the Welsh hillside. All musicians of some sort, they recorded some songs on a cassette and made a mad promise that wherever they were in 25 years time they would come back and record the other side.

The idea came after Rowe and Goddard wrote an original song for Mods and Rox. Enjoying the process so much, they got excited about the idea of joining forces to write a lot of songs for something else, laughs Goddard, who celebrated the end of his university finals by heading off into the yonder with some of his friends like the characters in the play.

Glenn Carter and Hannah Jarrett-Scott in rehearsals for Midsummer Songs at the New Wolsey Theatre. P

Glenn Carter and Hannah Jarrett-Scott in rehearsals for Midsummer Songs at the New Wolsey Theatre. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

“We’ve spent about 18 months working on it. There’s been a lot of tweaking but the basic scenario we worked out in the first storyline is more or less what we’ve still got,” says Rowe.

“The other thing we wisely decided to do is to introduce a character who’s 21 herself. One of the friends can’t be there because she’s ill so sends her daughter in her place. There’s a lot of looking back, reflecting on the middle of our lives but she’s at the beginning of her journey and has that optimism and naïvety - she’s looking at it from a different angle.”

As you’d expect, reuniting after quarter of a century can be tricky. Not all of the group have stayed in touch over the years, lives haven’t necessarily worked out as they’d hoped and the threads of relationships left hanging in mid-air need picking up.

“It’s a slightly hothouse environment. I always feel when you’re reunited with people you once knew really well it can be slightly awkward to begin with. Quite often you behave in ways that are slightly exaggerated, you’re more friendly, more passionate or reveal more of yourself than you would with people you see every day. This weekend of them coming together again produces some extraordinary moments for them all and changes the course of some lives,” says Rowe.

Glenn Carter and Hannah Jarrett-Scott in rehearsals for Midsummer Songs at the New Wolsey Theatre. P

Glenn Carter and Hannah Jarrett-Scott in rehearsals for Midsummer Songs at the New Wolsey Theatre. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

Goddard believes in terms of people coming back together again and using the moments in front of them to write songs that reflect those moments the tension is heightened again.

“That’s how we’re weaving the music into the story, we’re emphasising those moments of romance or awkwardness in a way that only music can do. Music, like no other art, really bypasses everything and goes straight to the soul - it’s got a direct route in, which is why it’s kind of the universal language we all understand.”

Rowe says the really powerful thing watching rehearsals, what they’re most excited about, is seeing the characters tell each other what they’re thinking and feeling through songs.

“That on stage is incredibly powerful because you get what music does, you get the distilled lyrics. Having that song addressed to you on stage is massive for the character involved and I don’t know anything quite like that and I know that’s going to be incredibly powerful for an audience.”

Glenn Carter and Hannah Jarrett-Scott in rehearsals for Midsummer Songs at the New Wolsey Theatre. P

Glenn Carter and Hannah Jarrett-Scott in rehearsals for Midsummer Songs at the New Wolsey Theatre. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

Midsummer Songs runs at the New Wolsey from September 4-27.

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