Chris Chambers interviewed by Jaz Mackenzie on BRAAP. Click here.
Or read transcript below:
Twenty years ago, composer Ian Rae wrote a sung through piece of musical theatre called OLYMPUS, drawing on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and retelling that story in the context of Ancient Greece. Weaving Athenians, Spartans, gods and myth through the piece, he created a work that was twice presented as a concert version.
In the years that followed the two concert performances, there were a few occasions when Ian and his wife, Morven (Producer of Good Company) considered resurrecting it, but time passed and nothing happened. However, in 2010 with The London Olympics on the horizon, they felt the time was right to develop the piece further.
Having seen my adaptation of Gulliver’s Travels (which was produced at The Minack Theatre in 2008 by The Mitre Players) Ian approached me about working on a book for Olympus.
I listened to the music and was overwhelmed with its beauty – particularly “You Are The Air I Breathe” and “How Many Dreams.” (Listen at www.olympusthemusical.co.uk)
Hearing these songs inspired me to take the project on, but I was a little wary, as it was clear to me from the start that reshaping the piece into something more contemporary was going to involve some big changes in structure and plot.
The transformation of the original concert piece has been a fascinating process – not always easy for Ian or myself, but has proved to me that there is no set formula for working on a musical. Ideally it would be easier, I think, to start with nothing and shape the plot, music and lyrics moment to moment. In the case of Olympus, existing material has had to be shuffled, switched, cut, pasted and totally rewritten. It may sound like a crossword, but actually it is quite a similar process to adapting a novel or existing story for the stage.
New songs have been composed for Olympus and new characters introduced. There is a comedy mystic by the name of Asclepios, and Homer himself, of Iliad fame, makes an appearance as a ridiculously talented twelve year old boy.
Instead of the action taking place in Ancient Greece alone, it now takes place in two time zones – 2012 AD and 780 BC. We have introduced a modern story and weaved it through the material that existed previously. Bizarrely, much of Ian’s music and lyrics have remained unchanged, as the original story has become the dream that our Olympic Athlete (Dimitry Raphael) experiences when he is struck by lightning and sent back in time.
The process is on-going and we are all looking forward to getting into the rehearsal room to bring the play off the page. Only then can you really see what works and what doesn’t. Someone said that musicals aren’t finished – they are abandoned – and I would go along with that! We must have been through twenty drafts in the last two years – each one an improvement. You just have to keep open to change.
And now we have cast over 60 people in the show and it has a fantastic community feel about it, drawing on talent from many local amateur societies, a number of professional actors and singers, local children and students from Croydon College.
Composer Ian Rae will MD and s et designer extra-ordinaire and self confessed “Minack bore” (how can she call herself that!) Jill “Wiggy” Wilson will be designing the show. She has recently been part of the team restoring and creating the artwork on the Minack stone after the reconstruction of the dressing rooms. Peggy Mayes will work on Costume, Niall Monaghan on creating atmospheric lighting and Penny Parks, who for 35 years has run a successful Dance Academy in Purley will choreograph the show. (It should be noted that her charity – The Penny Parks Charitable Trust - has agreed to donate a sum to help fund Croydon College students whilst in Cornwall, giving them the chance of a lifetime.)
We are indebted to Phil Jackson for thinking outside the box and giving OLYMPUS a slot to co-incide with the arrival of the real Olympic Flame at Land’s End on May 19th.
So all very exciting to get to this point and we are also very pleased to have had OLYMPUS approved by the RSC as part of their Open Stages Project. We have attended workshops given by the RSC and picked up some great tips for bringing a new musical to production - all part of developing the links between professional and amateur theatre and audiences.
To watch our progress follow Ian’s Blog at www.olympusthemusical.co.uk or mine at www.anotherwaytheatre.co.uk
So do book your tickets for this epic new piece of musical theatre. We can’t think of a better venue in England to produce Olympus. We might just as well be producing it at Cape Sounion or on the slopes of Olympus themselves.
Writer & Director