Greek Expectations with music
Greek Tragedy never ends well – the clues in the name – whereas Musical Theatre pretty much always does.
The two kinds of theatre couldn’t be more different but they do both have a Chorus, and both have been keeping Director, Musician, Composer – Elliot Wallis mightily busy for most of this year.
While musical theatre is clearly a passion, it’s as director of a new adaptation of Sophocles classic tragedy - Antigone that’s occupying Elliot’s time and energy.
It’s the second production from SE Theatre - the company he jointly formed
last year with Simao Vaz.
SE’s first production was a Shakespeare mash up The Course of True Love- it premiered at Stratford’s Attic Theatre in June before heading over the border to the Edinburgh Fringe. The ambition of the company is impressive and earned it one of Fringie awards
“Doing The Course of True Love made us determined to continue and do another production” Elliot explains. But a slew of work kept both from settling on another classic work to bring to the stage until earlier this year “our goal with SE Theatre was to take older works and reinvent them for the 21st Century”
Elliot and Simao met while both were members of Stratford’s Year Out Theatre programme – a year Elliot describes as “the most incredible year my life”. It was also during his time with Year Out that Elliot realised he was more interested in directing and music than in acting. Year Out also gave him the chance to try his hand at the Musical Director role and while directing is taking an increasing amount of Elliot’s time it’s as a Musical Director for Tread the Boards where the CV is longest.
This year has seen Elliot take on what he calls “a thrilling challenge” to write new songs to sit alongside such classics as Somewhere Over the Rainbow in Tread the Board's summer show – Wizard Of Oz and before that Elliot has provided music for three pantos, incidental music, songs and recently the introduction of a regular Night At The Musicals strand. “at The Attic.
There was a plan to do a night of musical theatre last year as a fundraiser for Tread The Boards but it didn’t happen” says Elliot “I didn’t want to do just a night of show songs I wanted something more structured” – the result has been two evenings – one featuring the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber the other a night songs from Disney movies. There’s a third one in December with songs from Hollywood movies which Elliot hints is an excuse to perform songs from Singin In the Rain and La-La Land. “The format has developed from a loose collection of songs to something more structured – it’s now a night with a cabaret feel with songs and a few sketches"
"Night at Musicals has been a chance for us to test the market in Stratford for musical theatre” Elliot explains “musicals are expensive” he acknowledges and testing the market is vital.
There’s been no market testing for Antigone – “it’s a bit of a risk” Eliot concedes.
Antigone is the last of Sophocles trilogy of plays about the most dysfunctional family in history – it’s where the Oedipus complex came from although the ultimate mummy’s boy doesn’t feature in Antigone.
Famously epic in scale, how are such mighty works going to squeeze on The Attic’s modest stage ? – with a little ingenuity and some re-shaping of the performance space to a traverse arrangement – where the audience on two sides sandwich the stage.
There’s going to be a chorus made up of students from Stratford College but fewer in number than originally planned “getting 13 actors on stage was just too much of a squeeze” Elliot admits.
So why Antigone - having worked on a production before Elliot is clear about the choice “Greek tragedy are really stories about people dealing with the consequences of the choices they make – we’re all doing that look at Brexit”
And after Antigone, director Elliot takes a rest and the Musical Director takes over. It’s a combination Elliot was once told doesn’t exist – but with more music for including another panto before the end of year and some really ambitious plans for SE Theatre lined up for 2019 there’s no sign of a unhappy ending.