Tired of the endless stream of auditions and feeling creatively stunted?
This is a familiar position for many, and for Samuel Hopkins this was the point when he decided to try something different. Sam trained in musical theatre but after graduation found himself in the same loop of auditions and working jobs where he wasn’t fully able to put this training into practice – “I wanted to feel like I was able to contribute to the creative process, a lot of the time I felt quite frustrated”. The answer seemed to be Central School of Speech and Drama’s MA in Advanced Theatre Practice and now, a year later, he’s directing his first major production in London in the same week as handing in his Master’s dissertation.
The Hired Man is a musical by Howard Goodall and Melvyn Bragg set at the turn of the 20th century, and tells the story of two young lovers as they begin married life and parenthood in the agricultural heartlands of Cumbria. The original 1984 West End production earned four Olivier Award nominations, and Best New Musical at the Ivor Novello Awards. This is the first major performance of the work in over 20 years in a new concert performance which is being directed by Sam at Cadogan Hall on Thursday 22nd September.
The production is produced with Andrew Linnie, who is the musical director and conductor for the concert. Andrew is also currently rehearsing to play lead role Jimmy Rabbitte for the UK tour of The Commitments. Sam met up with MTAS the week before the show to talk about his experience.
Andrew and Sam both love the story and music of The Hired Man so the first stage for them, as with any production, was to ask for the rights to the show. However, this time they went a stage further and asked Melvyn Bragg himself if he would like to narrate the show. To their surprise, he said yes! When asking Sam about how they got the cast involved he said that it was actually a relatively natural process because the show hasn’t been performed in such a long time there were a lot of people who wanted to be involved. All of the people taking part in the production want to be there and are fans of the show.
Once you have the rights to the show the next stage is to get started on your own production. Sam has edited the script and libretto from the original production and condensed them into a new concert version. He spoke about how one of the biggest challenges of this process was to keep the story in tact whilst finding a version of the show suited to a concert form. Melvyn Bragg’s new additional narration for this performance proved an excellent way of doing this. The production also features the largest orchestra assembled for this show. Howard Goodall wrote the score for a smaller chamber ensemble so these are brave choices for a director and conductor given that the writer and composer will both be in attendance!
The fantastic cast will be led by John Owen-Jones, who closed Les Misérables on Broadway playing Jean Valjean just a few weeks ago, and the Olivier Award-winning Jenna Russell. Everyone on the show has been working hard to make sure they are ready for the day of the concert. Sam talked us through the planning process. Once he had the script and the cast in place he set about staging the show ensuring he knew where each performer would be at every moment. The performance is a concert production and he said they’d rather keep the staging simple and get it right – make the evening about honouring the beautiful music and telling the story well. Sam apparently had a mock-up of the stage on his desk and flags for each character which he rearranged for each moment to plan the movements of the show, and then relayed all this information to the cast and creatives.
The project has been a demonstration of just how much preparation can be undertaken in order to help everything fall into place on the day. All of the cast have already rehearsed with the conductor, Andrew, ready to slot together on the morning of the show. The lighting design by Sarah Readman has been pre-programmed according to the movement map constructed by Sam, and Seeta Mistry on sound has been working with this plan in preparation to mix the orchestra, principals and ensemble. The production will feature projection mapped backdrops and video by Barret Hodgson. They only get into the space the morning of the show, so getting those projectors set-up and tested will take plenty of pre-organisation. Sam showed us a couple of the images of what is planned and they look stunning. As they don’t have set for this performance this helps create a suggestion of setting. “How else are you meant to pull off a mining disaster, a world war, and the idyllic hills of Cumbria all in one show?”.
As a self-produced entity, Andrew and Sam have been doing much of the groundwork themselves. As well as conducting/directing they have been promoting, flyering, designing programmes etc. and even on the night of the performance Sam said he’ll probably be side of stage helping out as opposed to sitting back and watching. This is a labour of love and dedication and shows what is involved in putting on a show yourself in the current market. I asked Sam why they have produced this show and he simply said that everyone wants someone with experience, so unless you get your lucky break, you have to at least try and do it yourself.
The show looks like it will be a great night celebrating a great show but it also reflects how much hard work has gone into it by a pair who fully deserve credit for the success. Sam is on Twitter @samuel_hopkins and Andrew @AndrewLinnie if you have any questions about the show or the experience of putting on a show they would love to hear from you.
The performance stars Jenna Russell (Doctor Faustus, Urinetown) and John Owen-Jones (Phantom, Les Mis) in the title roles of Emily and John. Matthew Seadon-Young (Billy Elliot, Urinetown) is Jackson, Evelyn Hoskins (Carrie, Spring Awakening) is May, Nigel Richards (Phantom) is Isaac and Stewart Clarke (Assassins) is Seth. (On an interesting side note Clarke’s parents, actors Paul Clarkson and Julia Hills, met when they originated the roles of John and Emily in the original production of The Hired Man and ended up marrying. Their son now plays in the show that brought them together.)
Written by MTAS Admin Luke (@lukesmithdj) for @MTAS_Official (C) 2016.