The cast of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, April 2012
How did the idea of adapting SNSM as a musical come about?
Stephen: I was offered a commission by musicworks to do a musical based on a local subject, and this was the one I really wanted to do. I’m Nottingham born and bred, and it spoke to me as a written work.
How do you even begin with a project like this?
Stephen: We had to get permission first, which we did via Alan Sillitoe’s brother, Mike, who’s a local percussionist. Then I got Cathy on board to write the lyrics. Together we worked out how to adapt it as a piece of musical theatre. We wanted to work from the story told by the novel, rather than the film; we were aware that Sillitoe was very disappointed that he had to heavily censor the story for the film screenplay. It was quite a long process; with musical theatre you need the basic elements of solos, ensembles, and some movement, so you look at the book and see where you can bring those in. We started with the main ensembles and worked outwards from that. It’s very similar to writing a piece of film music.
Catherine: We had to condense it a lot to make it work in two and a half hours. There are bits that you have to put in, but you also want to keep the colour and the extra characters to build a scene. Steve was always saying; ‘Cathy, you have to leave something out!’
How would you describe the style of this musical?
Stephen: I don’t really have a set musical style. I’ve brought in elements from the popular music of the period, like trad jazz and skiffle. I think the musical theatre genre might put certain people off, but I hope it doesn’t. It’s not a rock musical or a cheesy all-singing, all-dancing Andrew Lloyd-Webber thing. There are no big dance numbers or anything like that - It’s more a gritty piece of serious drama that’s got music, along the lines of Sondheim.
What experience did you both bring to the table?
Stephen: I’ve been writing music since the age of eleven. I did a degree in classical music composition and I used to be an opera singer, so I have a serious music background. For the last fifteen years I’ve been the Musical Director of shows at places like the Theatre Royal and the Playhouse, as well as being a conductor and a singing tutor.
Catherine: I teach the violin. I’ve always written music, and played in orchestras, but I’ve not written lyrics for musical theatre before. This was an opportunity to take my writing further, which has been hard work but a wonderful experience.
Is it particularly challenging to write lyrics in Nottingham dialect?
Catherine: A lot of the script is in dialect, particularly Arthur’s lyrics. There are some really obvious words that have to be in dialect, but we didn’t want to put too much in because it makes it difficult to understand and it’s a challenge to sing with the authentic sound. We have a dialect coach to make sure it is authentic. All the cast are local – mostly Nottingham but some from Derby and Leicester.
Tom Keeling as Arthur Seaton
How did you choose someone to play Arthur Seaton?
Stephen: That was difficult. We were thinking about it for years, and didn’t hit upon the right person until about six months ago. There’s a lot of talent in Nottingham, but we were really struggling to find someone who fulfilled all the criteria - particularly as we’re an amateur company so we can’t pay anybody. Tom Keeling was a pupil of mine before going to London for more training. When I found out he was back in Nottingham we offered him the part.
Catherine: Arthur is in every scene and he has about nine solos, so it’s a massive part. The music is complex and not easy to sing, so it’s a big thing to ask any singer to do. He also has to be attractive and have the extra something that makes people want to…um…look at them all the time. Although he’s a bad lad you have to really like him and want him to be OK in the end. His charisma is really important.
Are there plans to perform the musical elsewhere in the future?
Stephen: The plan is to take it forwards, but not necessarily with musicworks involved. We are inviting various artists to come and see it, and we’re hopeful it will be well received and will get picked up. It’s selling very well - if we sell out we might bring it back ourselves.
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Nottingham Playhouse, 8 – 12 May