ED2013 Interviews ED2013 Musicals ED2013 Week3 Edition

Orange Tree Productions: Cultures collide between the empires

By | Published on Tuesday 20 August 2013

Between Empires

 “West End material – touching, beautiful and exploding with life and vibrance”, said our reviewer after experiencing ‘Between Empires’, a new musical from Orange Tree Productions, set in India before British rule as the East India Company starts to build its powerbase. Combining Indian and Western music in their score, the creators of the show hope to develop ‘Between Empires’ further after its test-run in Edinburgh. We spoke to co-producers and co-writers Orlando Simon and Morgan Mackintosh to find out more.

CC: Where did the motivation come from to create ‘Between Empires’.
Morgan: From our love of India. I have always wanted to write a musical from a very young age and was waiting for the right story to come along. We both had a real conviction that this was the right time period in which to tell an amazing story.

CC: Tell us about that amazing story!
Orlando: This is actually a cut down version of the full story, because we had to fit it into an 80 minute slot. At its heart, it is a love story between two young people from different worlds. Anala, our lead – who’s played by Claire Marie-Hall – is in purdah, concealed from the outside world until she is married, and George – played by Josh Little – falls in love with her melancholic song, which drifts through the walls of her zenena. It is a story that can only be told through musical theatre. Even in our cut-down version there are elements of this era that are naturally dramatic and still relevant today – the tensions caused by the East India Company, the moral ambiguity of serving one of the first multinational companies in the world, and the corruption of some of its officials.

CC: It’s set during an eventful period in India’s history. Did you research the key events and changes of this era to inform the show?
Morgan: Yes, that was one of the best parts about the whole process. The period, the hundred years before British India, was a fascinating time, the exploits of these men serving the Company were both impressive and abhorrent. Reading the journals of some of them was a great way of tying to understand the mindset of men who left their homes knowing that they may never see them again, and who, from such a tenuous position, managed to dominate an entire subcontinent. The research on governor-generals, such as Robert Clive and Warren Hastings, was enormously informative to some of our characters. The end of the Mughal period was equally interesting. It was an extraordinary empire and the poetry, art and accounts of the time was really the catalyst for the story itself.

CC: How would you describe the music in the show? Your blurb talks about “blending east and west”.
Morgan: The score is epic. It is a blend of sounds, with a colourful influence of Indian instrumentation and a western, dramatic musical score. What the music does is not just a straight fusion, however. It juxtaposes the two worlds as much as bringing them together. It serves the plot and character development. I think that’s what makes it so unique and so special.

CC: What are the challenges in creating a brand new musical?
Orlando: The scale of our vision is very big, and so the pressure of creating this new piece of musical theatre is equally huge, especially when we are unknown writers and producers. You have to find people to listen to your story, and an audience that will respond well, or respond at all, which is why the Fringe is so great. Musical theatre is so determined by its live impact that it is very difficult to gage only looking at script or score. Taking it from that to the stage is incredibly hard – an expensive gamble. The Fringe has allowed us to test the show with a public.

CC: The music is played live in the show. Is that challenging in the context of the Fringe?
Morgan: Yes. With our quick get-in and get-out, having live instruments is tough – having to tune, sound-check, having an extra six people to stage, on a very small stage at that, has been a challenge, but the rewards when it comes together are great. Live music elevates the show, so it’s worth it!

CC: What are your future plans for ‘Between Empires’?
Morgan: We want to go back into development after the Fringe so we can expand on some of the themes and fill out the characters in a way that has been limited by the running time of our Edinburgh production. We then hope to take the show to a regional theatre next year to realise our vision… And then the West End!

CC: Is the Fringe a good place to showcase new musical theatre?
Orlando: It is challenging. There are a lot of new shows and new writing competing for attention. There are comedians with huge marketing budgets. However, what the Fringe does offer is an almost unique opportunity of interacting with your audience and getting their feedback on what you have produced. The Edinburgh audiences are very informed and their opinions, both praise and constructive criticism, has been invaluable and very rewarding.

CC: The West End often seems dominated by the ‘jukebox musicals’ these days. Do you think there is an appetite for more original musical shows?
Morgan: Well I certainly hope so! Yes, there are a lot of jukebox musicals around, partly I believe because new writing is always a risk, but I think if you have a great story, a great score and a passionate team behind you then audiences will feel a connection to the work you produce.

‘Between’ Empires was performed at theSpace @ Symposium Hall  at Edinburgh Festival 2013.

Photo: Natalia Equihua