I have always found it impossible to choose between focusing on music or drama, as there was always the feeling that you should concentrate on one skill to be taken seriously. So I chose acting initially, but I always kept up the music alongside and then I started to be asked to write music for shows, and when I had my son I started writing my own shows to be in, and now I manage to juggle a career in acting, writing, composing and gigging. Gagglebabble, which I formed with Hannah McPake in 2013 after the success of our first show The Bloody Ballad, is committed to this idea of combining the buzz and excitement of a live gig with entertaining and innovative storytelling. Rock n Roll Theatre for a new generation of theatre goers. It felt like Gig-theatre was only just starting in 2012 and now it feels like it’s everywhere, and with Sinners Club I wanted to push this form to its limits.
In 2015 I decided I wanted to write some songs, outside of a theatre show, that would maybe form an album that I could sing with a band. Quite soon I realised that these songs that were about anger and death and heartbreak needed to be sung by another voice, an angrier character than my own, someone who’s story encompassed these emotions, and so I put the project on hold. Then out of the blue I came across the story of Welsh-born Ruth Ellis who was the last woman to be hanged in Britain in 1955. She had a short but jam-packed, rollercoaster ride of a life, that ended with her shooting her lover six times in the back. It felt like her tragic story could be the perfect vehicle and muse for a show that was essentially an exploration into the sin and the darker side of human nature – asking the question “do we know what we are capable of?”
From this point the ball started rolling and in early 2016 I was lucky enough to be asked as the first Writer in Attachment at Theatre Clwyd, which meant I could spend a week staying at Gladstone Library and develop my idea. After that Kate Wasserberg wanted the show to be part of The Other Room’s Spring season 2017, and we were fortunate to be joined by Theatre Clwyd who would have the show for a few weeks after the Cardiff run. With my co-producers in place I managed to get an Arts Council of Wales research and development which ended with a sharing of the work-in-progress to an invited audience. This was very insightful, because even though the songs mainly worked (a lot stayed for the final show) I was bored by my idea of Ruth telling her own story. I realised I didn’t want to make it a linear storytelling biopic with songs but I wanted it to be more experiential and moody, like an immersive gig in a speakeasy club with a charismatic singer, rocking music and anecdotes and stories related to Ruth’s life and the theme of sin.
2016 was a bad year for losing great artists and there were some huge political earthquakes started that we continue to feel. It felt like a good year to be angry which of course fed into the songs – Valley of Plenty a song I wrote about greed was written the day Trump got elected. The music was apocalyptic and moody too. I was astounded by David Bowie’s swansong album Lazarus and loved the powerful energy of the album. Another album that was incredibly influential and inspiring was Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, the first since the terrible tragedy of him losing his son. Cave’s songs have always made a big impression, but this album felt like him at his best and most emotionally charged. The documentary of the making of the album “One More Time With Feeling” beautifully articulated the delicate recording process and demonstrated how music can transcend narrative and get to the root of our emotions. We all put our own meaning and significance to the songs, and they become more powerful.
By this time I had secured the brilliant Titas Halder as director on the project and he totally understood the emotional punch of these albums. After he saw the documentary he said “why don’t we set it in a recording studio?” Eureka!
For a show to really succeed I feel it’s all about getting the right chemistry and skill of the team you build around you. I had an amazing team, some old collaborators and some new, and for four weeks we collectively bounced ideas around based on the songs and rough script and ideas I had brought.
The Bad Mothers Band was formed and the show opened in February 2017 Thankfully it went down very well with audiences and critics – phew! I was worried because it felt like I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone with performance and style but the music and emotion seemed to win people over – even if some were expecting for a Ruth Ellis biopic. The themes of sexual violence and women’s rights and judgement and ‘having your voice heard’ feel more current than ever, and I’m thrilled that we get the opportunity to perform it in the heart of London, the Soho Theatre for the whole of December. It’s an enormous show of faith in the show and Gagglebabble, and I hope you can come and join us The Bad Mothers this Christmas.
Next Gagglebabble show is underway and will be performed over the Festival Of Voice in June 2018.
Soho Theatre, London
5th-30th December 2017 (no Sundays)
Soho Theatre Company Ltd
21 Dean Street
Box Office: 020 7478 0100
Photography by Kieran Cudlip
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