ED2021 Caro Meets ED2021 Musicals

Ella Pound, Ben James and Joe Venable: On Your Bike

By | Published on Friday 6 August 2021

There is usually a fair number of musicals at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, often new stagings of old favourites, but we are always especially on the look out for the new work.

This year Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society – whose members have been responsible for such previous successes as ‘Rust’ and ‘SiX’ – are in the Scottish capital with another new musical.

‘On Your Bike’ focuses on the world of delivery riders and features a jazzy musical theatre sound. To find out more about the show, I spoke to producer Ella Pound, composer Ben James and writer Joe Venable.

CM: Can you start by telling us what to expect from ‘On Your Bike’ in terms of storyline? Where does the narrative take us?
EP, BJ + JV: Our main plot is about two delivery riders, Gemma and Aidan, both barely scraping by. It briefly looks like they might hit it off – until Aidan’s head is turned by Daisy, a smooth-talking corporate bigwig who’s not the world’s most likeable boss. Then we also have a subplot about the owner of a tiny chicken shop trying to stop a big fast food chain moving in over the road, which keeps things lively.

CM: What themes does it explore…?
EP, BJ + JV: We’re talking a lot about poverty, and especially about bad employers – and the way each new technological advance seems to bring with it a new way to screw over workers. But we’re also interested in how you fight back: you’ll get some ‘Les Miserables’ or ‘Newsies’ vibes towards the end. It’s very much a story about underdogs, that asks what chance the little guy has in a world where everything is so big.

CM: Can you tell us about the music? How would you categorise it in terms of genre?
EP, BJ + JV: The music is funky, fresh and upbeat. Expect quintessential musical theatre blended with rock and jazz, with the occasional dash of salsa and hip hop! We recommend audiences wear comfortable shoes to allow maximum ease for tapping their toes.

CM: What inspired this musical? Where did the idea come from?
EP, BJ + JV: In a really short space of time, delivery riders were suddenly everywhere, with luminous uniforms and massive backpacks and delicious food. You hear about them a lot in the abstract – about employment rights, court cases, technicalities. But we wanted to talk about the people – what it’s like to be a rider and how this kind of employment affects the people who need it to survive.

CM: Can you tell us about the creative team behind it?
EP, BJ + JV: Our lyricist Joe Venable is one of the Cambridge Footlights; he’s made the semi-finals of the Musical Comedy Awards and was silver medallist for the Kinsella/Other Prize 2021. Our composer Ben James comes from a background of jazz and music production – he loves bringing a variety of genres into musical theatre.

CM: What made you decide to come to the Fringe with the show, despite its smaller size this year?
EP, BJ + JV: A kind of blundering optimism – every time we told someone we were going to the Fringe they’d say “Awww” – but somehow it’s happened! We wrote a show called ‘No Cash Left On The Premises Overnight’ that was cancelled last year because of COVID, and Joe had written the Footlights Pantomime which was also lost to the pandemic – so this felt like a last shot at getting something staged before giving up and starting a podcast or something awful like that. The smaller festival is so strange but there’s something really lovely about it – a bunch of artists who’ve looked at the risks, the amount of money and time you could lose if stuff gets cancelled, then stuck two fingers up to COVID and done it anyway.

CM: How are you finding the scaled down festival? Do you think it will be as fun as usual?
EP, BJ + JV: We think it will definitely be as fun! It’s a very different way of being at the Fringe, but we’ve already seen some brilliant shows, and interacting with other companies via Twitter and Instagram has really given us the opportunity to chat with other creatives and see each other’s work. It’s mostly just exciting to be seeing live theatre again after such a difficult year and a half!

CM: How have the effects of the pandemic been felt by CUMTS? How did you manage to bring this show together during the lockdown?
EP, BJ + JV: Many – if not all – CUMTS shows for the past academic year have had to be cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic, and so it’s been really difficult for a lot of students to get involved in as much theatre as they usually would. ‘On Your Bike’ was no exception, especially at points: we really were unsure if we were going to make it! Most of our meetings for the first couple of months of the process – which began in April – took place virtually, and we slowly adjusted to in person rehearsals as restrictions eased. It was definitely very touch-and-go for a while so we’re just glad we’ve managed to make it up!

CM: How much producing does CUMTS do in a normal academic year?
EP, BJ + JV: CUMTS tends to produce at least four or five musicals a year, as well as lots of student writing. Previous musicals have included ‘Guys and Dolls’ and ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. The society usually also sends one or two shows to the Edinburgh Fringe each year, which in previous years has included ‘Rust and SiX’.

CM: What hopes do you have for this musical in the future?
EP, BJ + JV: The last show our company did was ‘Rust’, which recently got performed in Canada, and before that it was ‘SiX’ that’s now on the West End and Broadway. So there’s a very high bar! We’ll just be thrilled if we have a good run here, hopefully a home run back in Cambridge where we’re based, and then we’ll see if anything else happens!

On Your Bike’ was performed at theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall at Edinburgh Festival 2021.

LINKS: www.thespaceuk.com | www.cumts.co.uk | twitter.com/CUMTS | twitter.com/theSpaceUK