Mu­si­cal take on mean­ing of mod­ern fam­ily

A suc­cess­ful play­wright and the author of hit movie Cal­en­dar Girls, Tim Firth has set him­self an­other chal­lenge. Yvette Hud­dle­ston spoke to him about his new mu­si­cal.

Yorkshire Post - Culture & The Guide - - STA -

“I HAVE a love hate re­la­tion­ship with mu­si­cal theatre,” says Tim Firth prob­a­bly best known as the author of the film and stage ver­sions of the hugely pop­u­lar and phe­nom­e­nally suc­cess­ful Cal­en­dar Girls. “I love cer­tain mu­si­cals and find oth­ers hard to sit through, but I had al­ways mulled over the idea of writ­ing one.”

Firth is cur­rently work­ing with Sh­effield Theatres where later this month the Cru­cible Stu­dio will host the world pre­miere of his new mu­si­cal This is My Fam­ily, with artis­tic di­rec­tor Daniel Evans at the helm.

Since tak­ing on the role of artis­tic di­rec­tor at Sh­effield, Evans – an ac­com­plished mu­si­cal theatre ac­tor in his own right – has been some­thing of a cham­pion of the mu­si­cal form. He starred in the theatre’s well re­ceived 2011 pro­duc­tion of Stephen Sond­heim’s Com­pany and di­rected last year’s Christ­mas show My Fair Lady with Dominic West as Pro­fes­sor Hig­gins.

Firth says that Sh­effield was sug­gested to him as a pos­si­ble venue by the pro­ducer of Cal­en­dar Girls. “So with­out ever hav­ing worked at the theatre be­fore, I got on a train and came to meet Daniel Evans,” he says. “I sat him down on the stage and, with­out him know­ing any­thing about the idea, I played him the first act my­self on the pi­ano and played all the parts. At the end

I sat him down on the stage and I played him the first act my­self on the pi­ano.

he said ‘do you want me to com­mis­sion it?’ and I said ‘I just want to know if you are in­ter­ested enough to see the sec­ond act.’”

Evans was in­ter­ested so Firth went away and wrote the sec­ond act, came back to give Evans an­other one-man pre­sen­ta­tion of the sec­ond half and the piece was com­mis­sioned.

This is My Fam­ily tells the story of what hap­pens when an or­di­nary fam­ily – mum, dad, teenage chil­dren, grand­mother and aunt – go on a ‘hol­i­day of a life­time’ won by daugh­ter Nicky. The idea has an in­ter­est­ing ge­n­e­sis – Firth al­ready had a “quite com­pli­cated” idea for a mu­si­cal which he aban­doned af­ter a frus­trat­ing meet­ing dis­cussing it with a pro­ducer in Lon­don.

“Af­ter­wards I said to my agent ‘I’m go­ing to spend the rest of my life ex­plain­ing to peo­ple what it isn’t; I should just write a mu­si­cal about a fam­ily go­ing on hol­i­day to­gether...’ I be­lieve in things that come out of nowhere.”

He was orig­i­nally go­ing to de­velop the idea as a play fo­cussing on the comic po­ten­tial of hol­i­day­ing with teenagers and says he didn’t know at that stage what di­rec­tion it would take un­til he be­gan to draw the cen­tral char­ac­ters.

“I had the char­ac­ter of the 13-year-old daugh­ter and she came on stage and said ‘Ok this is my fam­ily’ and she started to sing and I went from there,” says Firth. “It de­vel­oped into a mu­si­cal that asks the ques­tion ‘what is the point of fam­ily?’ in our mod­ern age, when most fam­i­lies are un­der pres­sure to split up or move apart if things start to go wrong. We are in the habit to­day of think­ing that if things aren’t work­ing, we just move on and start again; I didn’t set out to write that, I set out to write about a group of peo­ple in a tent.”

This is not Firth’s first in­volve­ment with the mu­si­cal form – a decade ago he wrote the script for Our House which fea­tured mu­sic and lyrics by Mad­ness. The pro­duc­tion went on to win an Olivier Award for best new mu­si­cal in 2003. How­ever, with This is My Fam­ily, Firth has been re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing the en­tire show – writ­ing all the dia­logue, mu­sic and lyrics him­self, which is rare. “The thing that comes first is the story,” he ex­plains. “And there was a feel­ing as I was writ­ing the text that – here is a point where peo­ple in their hearts would sing. It is usu­ally a mo­ment that is mov­ing or funny. As long as I kept telling my­self it was just a com­edy where some­times peo­ple sing rather than think­ing I was writ­ing a mu­si­cal, then that was less daunt­ing and I kept run­ning with it.”

Mu­sic was very def­i­nitely Firth’s first love. As a child and teenager, grow­ing up in Cheshire, he spent most of his time en­ter­ing mu­sic com­pe­ti­tions and writ­ing

BOX OF­FICE SUC­CESS: Pene­lope Wil­ton, Helen Mir­ren and Julie Wal­ters in the hit movie Cal­en­darGirls.

PIC­TURE: KEITH PAT­TI­SON

TAK­ING SHAPE: Tim Firth, stand­ing left, dur­ing re­hearsals for his new mu­si­cal Thi­sisMyFam­ily.

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