Ahead of the latest production ‘The King of Nothing’ coming to Little Angel Theatre in Islington, we caught up with the artistic director to find out more about his inspiration, the show and the next generation of young Londoners.
Q. Please introduce yourself in one sentence?
I’m a writer of musicals who’s been beguiled into the world of puppets: I like to think of myself as the “Cole Porter of Puppet Theatre,” as if anyone ever asked for such a thing!
Q. What was/is your favourite children’s book and why?
I remember being very taken with a book called the Giant Jam Sandwich, in which a town plagued by wasps created an enormous jam sandwich and lured all the wasps into it, before helicoptering it away who knows where? I loved the fact that they baked an entire enormous loaf of bread just so they could slice two vast slices from it to make the sandwich. Totally gratuitous. As was the helicopter. Beautiful drawings, nifty rhymes, and a ludicrously large sandwich.
Q. The Emperor’s New Clothes is firm childhood favourite – how are you bringing
this classic into the modern sphere?
Whenever I mention adapting the Emperor’s New Clothes to anyone they always say: “Oh that’s so relevant to now!” Because it always is. Rulers are always vain and deluded, spin-doctors of one sort or another are always convincing us to believe in their magical nonsense. Our version of the tale exists in a nowhere nonsense world which has fun with the old-fashioned notion of a King and Courtiers while also referencing a few more contemporary absurdities, such as the weird world of High Fashion. The fabled fabric that can only be seen by clever and the competent is re- imagined for the 21 st century as a “smart” fabric – because you have to be “smart” to see it!
Q. What themes do you feel are relevant from the Emperor’s New Clothes for
Today’s children, more than ever before, are growing up in a world of spin, where it sometimes feels like the whole world is one big, screaming advert. This is a story that helps teach children both to seek out real values and to be on their guard against the myriad ways we can all be hoodwinked by the various Swindlers at large in society.
Q. What/who is your biggest inspiration when it comes to creating music for
Frank Loesser, the composer/lyricist of Guys and Dolls is probably as good as they get, to my mind. Fresh and witty and moving all at once. And I quite like the fact that no-one outside of Musical Theatre world has heard of him (though we can all sing Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat). A little-known (and very relevant) fact: he also wrote a musical about the life of Hans Christian Andersen, which starred Danny Kaye and included such classics as The Ugly Duckling and a song inspired by Emperor’s New Clothes (The King is in the All Together, I think it was called!)
Q. What tune best illustrates your 2022? OR if London was made into a show, what music would it have to accompany it?
In my 20s I was listening to the music of 50 years previous, so keeping up with the latest musical offerings has always been a challenge! But I was touched to notice that the genius of Kate Bush spoke immediately to a new generation this year when they used Running Up That Hill on an episode of Stranger Things. We are all running up a very big hill in these terrifying times, so it’s good to have an energising soundtrack.
The King of Nothing runs at the Little Angel Theatre from 24 September until 20 November 2022. Further information and tickets can be found here.