Preview: The Last Post
OLIVIA BELL meets Henry Jenkinson (Composer/Co-writer) and Paige Thompson (Producer), who are preparing for The Last Post, a new musical set in 1939 in an English village on the precipice of war.
So this is a continuation of your concert performance The Last Hundred last term: why the change of name to The Last Post?
Henry: So there was the ambiguity of The Last Hundred that some people liked, but the pertinence of the title is only this year, so there’s less longevity. Obviously the Last Post is the trumpet that you hear on Armistice Day, and that is alluded to musically in the score, but there is also a big theme of correspondence throughout the show – the show centers around the idea of how war is reported rather than seen, so you never actually go to the battlefield. So ‘post’ as a central motif figures very prominently.
How similar is this production to The Last Hundred concert performance?
Henry: So much of the music is the same, in a different order – there are about five or six new songs. Some are split, and serve a different purpose to before –
Paige: We’ve added some happier songs! It’s a bit of a relief for the audience; there’s a balance now, you won’t weep all the way through! They allow for more development of the characters.
Henry: If people come to see the show who also saw The Last Hundred, you’ll definitely recognize the music, but it comes with a narrative that you wont necessarily have expected.
So is this fully staged?
Henry: No, basically this is a workshop. We’re conforming to what a workshop would be like on the West End – it’s a workshop script, still in development – we’re currently in the 8th or 9th draft of the script, and the way it’s staged is so that the spotlight remains on what is being spoken and sung, the script and the music, rather than how people are interacting with each other in a physical sense.
How fluid was the script writing process?
Henry: There was an enormous amount of performers input; when we saw how the character lived on stage rather than just on paper, we adapted a lot.
Paige: All summer, when we were reading through the script, we were trying to get a feel for the characters, and after the very first read through we thought OK, we need to rewrite these bits as this story here isn’t finished, this dynamic needs to change, etc.
Henry: It’s had to be, a writer can’t be precious – if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.
There’s not much student musical theatre writing in Cambridge: why is that?
Henry: I was very lucky, I had a lot of support from the beginning with actors spurring me on, and Ellen was on board from the beginning; its just that these things take so much time, which is scarce in Cambridge!
Paige: But it’s a problem at the moment in music theatre writing in general, there’s not much new writing going on, which is why this project is so exciting and has got support from professional companies here and in Canada.
Is this your act of remembrance?
Henry: This isn’t an act of remembrance in its own right: despite all the letters being based on original letters we found in archives and the historically accurate narrative, this is still a story, and we weren’t trying to make a philosophical point about the nature of war. But we were interested in the link between the two wars and the human impact back home – how the war affected ordinary people.
Paige: There’s something very powerful about the fact that you have, for example, a boy standing up singing these songs at the same age as the people who did actually have to go and fight – we’re not trying to pretend to be scholars, but really, what if this was us; that has particular resonance for me.
The Last Post workshop runs Thursday 13th -Saturday 15th at St Giles’ Church, Castle Street. Tickets £10/8 http://www.adcticketing.com/whats-on/musical/the-last-post.aspx