We chat to Dan Lashbrook and Petra Schofield about their brand new musical “Pencoweth” which sails into the Rondo Theatre next week.
Who are Music Is Life and how long have they been together?
Music is Life formed in 2010 and are a Bath-based theatre company who write, produce and perform brand new musicals. Their first full-scale new musical The Decent Rogues won NODA’s prestigious ‘Best New Musical Award’ and after transferring to London on its premiere run, was placed in Time Out’s “Top 10 musicals” in London.
Tell us a bit more about you?
Music is Life Productions are fronted by Dan Lashbrook, Rob Pratt and Petra Schofield. We are all writers, performers, composers, producers, directors and all-round theatre familiarists with more stage flying hours than we care to look up. When not creating, recreating and procreating, we are individually a GP surgeon, a music shop owner and a freelance drama tutor and theatre director. But not necessarily in that order.
I am responsible for bringing the script to life and recreating a community bound by the forces of nature and life in a fishing harbour. I run rehearsals, marketing and everything else that needs to be done to get the show to the stage.
What is the show about?
Pencoweth is a brand new musical with book, music and lyrics by Rob and myself and directed by Petra. It is the tale of a 19th Century Cornish village following the lives of two couples affected by a series of events involving mistaken identity, revenge and tragedy. It is based on historical fact and has many references to how the real life in such village would have been.
What was your inspiration behind the show?
All of us have personal connections with Cornwall and despite it being a natural backdrop for a stage show there are precious few shows that really deal with its history and way of life. The Newlyn school of Art and artists such as Walter Langley and Stanhope Forbes created masterpieces that illustrate the stories told in Pencoweth perfectly. In addition, Rob and I feel strongly that the ‘jukebox’ musical has become a tired way of producing new shows and there is a great need for fresh, brand-new writing that appeals to a wide audience. Dan and Rob also have very tolerant wives.
What was your vision for the production?
From the outset I was aware that the cinematic script and score would be a huge challenge to put on a stage, particular as we aim for intimate venues without commercial trappings. I knew that I had to find a way of “suggesting” places and leaving far more to the imaginations of the audience, hopefully making it engaging and fluid without the need for massive scene changes or lapses in narrative at any point. It is fairly minimal in its staging and with Becca Long as designer I think the images and tableau settings will create a highly atmospheric piece. We have a fantastic lighting designer too who will just tweak those images into really memorable pictures that will stay long after the show is over.
We hope to create a show in which the audience will find personal moments – either because of their own experiences of Cornwall and its history but more generally in characters dealing with life’s challenges of surviving, celebrating, suffering and making sacrifices but told with music and dialogue in a ‘classical’ and lavish style.
What was your approach to creating this piece?
Rob and I came up with the outline for the book and then started finding strong musical moments using the approach that “if the action is too serious to speak, sing it”. Using a central theme of folk/shanty/world music styles we tried to recreate styles of music that would be in-keeping with the 1850s but with a bit of ‘West-Endioplasty’ turned them into numbers that would fit into any era thus creating a ‘timeless’ musical. Scenes were then divided up and dialogue and lyrics added in turn. Each scene was then deconstructed and blended in to the relevant songs to make the show flow. Some wine was also involved for inspiration….
White wine, usually from Chile. Any possible excuse to walk the headlands of Cornwall and take ridiculous amounts of photographs.
What other productions have you been involved with?
The Decent Rogues was Music is Life’s first venture, Petra’s back-history runs to several volumes so I’ll let her give you the highlights!
I have been involved in theatre in Bath since a teenager, however it is only in recent years that I have the move to being a freelance practitioner. I met Dan following the BLOG production of Sweeney Todd at TRB when I played Mrs. Lovett. Over the past couple of years I have created Magic Penny Productions, delivering history in schools through drama. The Midsummer Theatre Company and also run the youth theatre section of Merrimen Theatre Group. I am Directing RENT in November for BODS and there are already a few things in the pipeline for next year. It’s busy but really rewarding as the majority of what I do is new work, rooted in the community and associated with their history, there is something really liberating about devising bespoke pieces especially if they are for community celebrations.
Where can people find out more about you, the company and the show?
Twitter: @pencoweth, @MusicislifeP, @pschofield
Facebook: Search for Pencoweth
Pencoweth runs at Bath’s Rondo Theatre from Sept 25 – 28 at 7.30pm with a matinee on Sat 28 at 2.30pm.
Tickets £14 (£12).
Pencoweth has universal appeal. Anyone who likes or appreciates musical theatre, or simply just a decent bit of story-telling will take something away from it. Hopefully they’ll be singing the shanties in the taxi on the way home.
All tickets through Bath Box Office. https://uk.patronbase.com/_BathFestivals/Productions/RN75/Performances.
Thank you and see you there!
Dan Lashbrook & Petra Schofield