"Didn't we have some wonderful times?"
As 1933 draws to a close, Laurence and Wilfred find themselves absorbed in a whirlwind of fabulously indulgent evenings across London’s West End with their fellow queer friends. But although their hidden world seems surprisingly free and easy, how long can it last?
IS HE MUSICAL? is an intimate, joyous musical comedy inspired by the true stories of the queer friends who loved, lived and partied across 1930s London.
The musical will premiere in a digital production performed live at the University of Wolverhampton before transferring to Curve, Leicester for two performances as part of DMU Pride. In addition to the shows, an immersive digital space will curate and collect historical & creative responses to both the musical and the rich history surrounding the show. A series of Q+As and workshops will also be hosted for free by the artists behind the musical. The show makes a final stop at The Other Palace for a semi-staged concert production.
In February 2021, Matt commissioned me to write a song for a night of new musical theatre writing they were producing as part of LGBTQ+ History Month. I was excited by this invitation - as a new musical theatre writer and composer I’m keen to challenge a lot of existing LGBTQ+ representation in theatre, with a passion for telling stories that focus on joy, resilience and hope, in the hope it may inspire and reassure others that it, despite the odds, it IS possible to live happily as an LGBTQ+ person. I do feel that it was rather brave of Matt to trust me with this commission, however - especially as I was developing a reputation for writing relatively wacky stories, having just finished work on a particularly wacky supervillain romcom audio musical - but I’m glad that they had faith in me.
I was keen to try something a little bit different for my commission, and challenged myself to look into aspects of LGBTQ+ history I was less familiar with. I came across an absolutely fascinating free short film on the BFI (British Film Institute) player online - an episode of the 1980s British TV series ‘Gay Life’. This particular episode opened with 15 minutes of two elegant gay gentlemen in their seventies reminiscing about the wonderful evenings their friendship group, who would affectionately referr to each other as sisters, would spend together during the early 1930s. The sisters could be found at various different spots across the West End, with the episode choosing to focus on the Long Bar, upstairs at the Trocadero on Shaftesbury Avenue, in particular.
I was thrilled at the detail and the absolute joy that radiated from both Gifford Skinner and Benny, the two men featured in this introduction. We walk with them around the different bars, pubs, clubs and theatres they used to frequent, as they fondly share stories, in-jokes and memories. I was particularly a fan of the frank, bold, unapologetic way in which Gifford spoke about his experiences and identity, in particular. It’s a brilliant watch.
Upstairs at the Trocadero, a song inspired by Gifford’s perspective, even taking some of his words from the episode and using them verbatim within the lyrics, came to me rather quickly, and was presented at the new writing evening.
I still felt that there was more to this story, and Matt agreed. I began to explore other information on the era and came across a wealth of fascinating research relating to the Caravan Club, a space in the basement of 81 Endell Street just off Drury Lane (An area we’ve got to know quite well recently, in fact - completely coincidentally, when Matt was arranging our London rehearsal space, we discovered they’d actually booked us in at 79 Endell Street…!).
Advertised as ‘the most unconventional spot in town’, the Caravan Club was a private members club which offered a rather different kind of atmosphere and setting that contrasted hugely with the glamour and luxury of the Trocadero Long Bar, too.
At this point, I really must acknowledge the generosity and kindness of a number of sources and individuals: in particular, Sacha Coward and Sheldon Goodman, who have supported the historical engagement aspect of this project and provided guidance throughout, Vicky Iglinowski-Broad from the National Archives for taking the time to speak with me about her work on the Caravan Club, and Sarah Whitfield from the University of Wolverhampton for the excellent dramaturgical support and guidance she has offered Matt and I. If you’re interested in learning more about queer history during this era, I’ve also found the book Queer London by Matt Houlbrook to be extremely useful, and similarly the book Gay New York by George Chauncey and Douglas Carter Beane’s play The Nance were essential in understanding what was happening in New York City at this time, too.
In less than a year, Is He Musical? has developed from a single song into a full one act piece, all thanks to a gorgeous team of superb artists, creatives and venues who have supported the piece on its journey.
Is He Musical? isn’t intended to be a highly accurate or detailed portrayal of the time, especially as it would be impossible to do justice to everything in the space of one hour, but is loosely inspired by the majority of the material I’ve described above, looking back through a contemporary lens. It aims to acknowledge and confront the injustices and horrors of the time, but at its heart it celebrates queer joy, community and resilience. We follow Laurence as he daydreams of his youth, reflecting on the past, before making peace with the present.
This is a snapshot, a memory - it’s warm and well-loved, a little hazy, worn around the edges, even glitchy at times. Fuzzy in the corners, like the picture of a well-loved VHS tape. However, the honesty, hope and joy continue to shine through, invincible. Perhaps it encourages you to reflect on the impact that certain spaces and people have had on shaping your own identity and journey.
Is He Musical? offers a thank you to those who came before us, a friendly arm around the shoulders of those here today, and a toast to those who will come after us. I sincerely hope you enjoy tonight’s performance.
Thank you for supporting new musical theatre and a team of emerging artists and creatives.
The musical was commissioned by MPTheatricals in February 2021 after Taylor’s contribution to QUEERME: a new writing night. Since then, the musical has received ongoing development with director Matt Powell on a weekly basis. In April, the musical had a virtual reading staring Josh Barnett and Jonathan O'Neill.
In June, the musical was workshopped at Curve Theatre for two days with Josh Barnett, Jonathan O'Neill & Francesca Fenech (Musical Director). The musical was also showcased at The Lowry, Salford Quays as part of REWRITES, featuring Teddy Hinde and Jonathan O'Neill.
The musical was programmed as part of VAULT Festival 2022 which was sadly cancelled in January 2022. The musical's premiere has now been reprogrammed as a livestream at the University of Wolverhampton, a fully staged production at Curve, Leicester and a concert at The Other Palace.
IS HE MUSICAL is inspired by a rich array of documentaries, articles and archives shining light on this rich and often forgotten era of history. To celebrate this and dive deeper into the era, we're thrilled to present "Didn't We Have Some Wonderful Times?": a immersive creative and historical digital programme packed with events, performances and stories including from Sacha Coward, Sheldon Goodman, Esme Sears, Miss. Sundi and more! These will be posted on the MPTheatricals platforms over the coming weeks.
Laurence: Barry O'Reilly (he/him)
Wilfred: Teddy Hinde (they/them)
Violin: Adastra P.Fletcher-Hall (they/she)
Cello: Kathryn Monteiro (she/her)
Composer/Writer: Jude Taylor (he/him)
Director: Matt Powell (they/he/she)
Musical Director: Francesca Fenech (she/her)
Set and Costume Designer: Ana Webb-Sanchez (she/her)
Movement Director: Ryan Wiggins (he/him)
Artwork: Ashley Goh (they/she)
Arrangements/Music Supervisor: George Strickland (he/him)
Dramaturgy: Sarah K. Whitfield (she/her)
Technical Production: James Nicholson & Patrick Tullock (he/him)
Livestream Platform & Support: theatrical.solutions
Didn't We Have Some Wonderful Times: A Digital Collection
Historical Partners: Sacha Coward & Sheldon Goodman (he/him)
Creative Contributors: Esme Sears (she/her) Miss. Sundi (they/she)
Producers: Matt Powell & Jude Taylor for MPTheatricals
Production Placement Students:
Supported by Arts Council England
Special Thanks to:
The Swiss Church of London, Dance Attic Studios,
Emily Rose-Simons, Clare Chandler, James Lovelock,
Sarah Browne, Steve Powell, Kiki Stevenson, Beth Shouler, Kay Hardiman, Joe Geoghan, David Webb, The Questers Theatre, Nathan Shanley, Ash Collard, Adam Lenson
Scene 1.: London, Autumn 1933
#2 There’s a Little World (Laurence)
#3 Upstairs at the Trocadero (Wilfred)
#4 Upstairs at the Trocadero - Reprise (Wilfred, Laurence)
Scene 2: London, Winter 1933
#5 My True Self (Laurence, Wilfred)
#6 The Most Unconventional Spot in Town (Laurence, Wilfred)
Scene 3: London, Spring 1934
#7 Acceptably Beautiful (Wilfred)
#8 The Argument Duet (Laurence, Wilfred)
Scene 4: Late August, 1934
#9 All Talk (Laurence)
Scene 5: 25th August 1934
#10 The Raid
#11 Married Life (Wilfred)
#11A Married Life - Transition (Wilfred, Laurence)
#12 Finale: Return to the Trocadero
JUDE TAYLOR (he/him)
Jude Taylor is a composer, lyricist and writer from Leicestershire. His first full length musical Steep Themselves in Night premiered at The Other Palace in London during October 2018 and was followed by Make Me Infamous, a new full cast musical theatre audio production (produced by MP Theatricals) released online in November 2020. He is currently working on Is He Musical? which will premiere during February 2022 following workshops at Leicester Curve and The Lowry in 2021. Since 2021, Jude has been a Curve Resident Creative.
Jude is interested in creating quirky new musical comedies and fairytales which explore and challenge the usual representation of LGBTQ+ people in musical theatre.
Other credits as a composer/writer include: QUEERME (MP Theatricals, 2021); SIGNAL x MT Pride (2020, MP Theatricals/Queerly Productions/Adam Lenson); on hope: a digital song cycle (2020, MP Theatricals/Victoria Saxton); All That Scratch podcast (2019; All That Productions/The Other Palace); (Hey) Jude Taylor live at The Pheasantry, London (2019); Lionel Bart Masterclass (Mercury Musical Developments, 2018)
His first EP, (Hey) Jude Taylor, was released in 2019 and is available to stream online.
TEDDY HINDE (they/them)
Teddy is currently training at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
Professional credits: Guilliam in CAMELOT (London Palladium); Jax in THE REGULARS (Turn On Fest - The Hope Mill Theatre); Marley in ‘A SONG FOR CHRISTMAS' ( The Iris Theatre, Covent Garden);
Credits whilst training include: Chitterlow in KIPPS: THE NEW HALF A SIXPENCE MUSICAL; King Julien in MADAGASCAR - A MUSICAL ADVENTURE.
Represented by Michelle Blair Management
SARAH K WHITFIELD (she/her)
Sarah K Whitfield is a queer musical theatre researcher, dramaturg and director. She writes about theatre history with a particular focus in uncovering the work that
under-represented and minoritised groups do and has presented her work internationally, including at Wigmore Hall. Her books include the edited collection Reframing the Musical: Race, Culture and Identity and together with her writing partner, Sean Mayes, An
Inconvenient Black History of British Musical Theatre 1900-1950. As a dramaturg, she has collaborated and advised on a range of projects from site-specific immersive theatre to West End musicals.
MATT POWELL (they/she/he)
Matt a musical theatre creative, video designer & digital practitioner with a passion for LGBTQIA+ storytelling. Through a variety of creative roles, they are interested in the connection between digital & real world spaces. Alongside freelancing, they are a part time PhD candidate at the University of Wolverhampton exploring production practices to broaden representations of queer bodies in musical theatre. They produce LGBTQ+ and digital musical theatre through MPTheatricals through artist development, concerts and digital work.
Notable credits include RUMI (Video Designer - London Coliseum), SNOWFLAKE (Producer - The Lowry, Salford Quays), WATFORD BIG BUNTING, BUFFERGRAM (Digital Director - Watford Palace Theatre), PUBLIC DOMAIN (Video Designer/Associate Director - ALPMusicals: West End & Stream). WILF GOES WILD (MPTheatricals), QUEERED (MPTheatricals), ON HOPE: A DIGITAL SONG CYCLE (The Other Palace), AMERICAN IDIOT (Derby Theatre.)
FRANCESCA FENECH (she/her)
Musical Director/Lady Lavender
Francesca is an actress, MD and pianist who graduated from the BA Acting course at The Italia Conti Academy in 2011 after moving to London from Malta. Most recently she was MD for 'David Copperfield' at the Barn Theatre. Previous MD credits include 'Nanna's Bolognese', 'Immigration Crisis - The Musical' and 'Bahar' (all for Prickly Pear Productions), 'Cinderella', 'Aladdin', 'Robin Hood' for Such Stuff Productions, 'Robin Sherlocksley', 'A Christmas Carol' for Young Actors Theatre Islington, 'Don't Cha Wish Your Scouser Was Boss Like Me?' for Manchester Actors’ Platform and 'Travesti' for Unbound Theatre with whom she is also an associate artist of theirs. Previous acting credits include Scarlet Bag in 'Waiter, There's A Murder In My Soup!' (Fat Rascal Theatre at Troubadour Theatre, Wembley), The Wolf Queen in 'Beauty and The Beast' (The Key Theatre, Peterborough) and Tracy Turnblad in 'Hairspray' (Gordon Craig Theatre). She is represented by Caroline at Felix De Wolfe.
BARRY O'REILLY (he/him)
Barry has recently graduated from the Royal Academy of Music.
Credits whilst training include Glen Guglia in The Wedding Singer; Stephen Sondheim in Tell 'Em Things They Don't Know: Sondheim at 90 and Deflores in The Changeling.
Barry has also performed at concerts at the Union Theatre (Stars of the Future), The Actors' Church (Sunday at the Musicals) and Toulouse Lautrec (Untapped).
Is He Musical marks Barry's professional debut.
RYAN WIGGINS (he/him)
Movement & Assistant Director
Ryan is an acting graduate of the Guildford School of Acting and has a particular passion for actor movement and choreography, particularly from an actor's perspective. This production marks Ryan's professional debut as a movement director for which he is very excited for.
ANA WEBB-SANCHEZ (she/her)
Set and Costume Designer
Ana Webb-Sanchez (she/her) is a London based Set and Costume Designer who graduated from The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama with a first-class degree in Theatre Design. She has designed for a range of shows such as musicals, dance, fringe and film as well as assisting designers on shows in places such as The Southwark Playhouse, Park Theatre and Hackney Empire. Her most recent credits are Art Department for short film Bluebird (2021), Tier Three Sisters at The Hope Theatre (2021) and 12 at the Greenhouse Theatre, Canary Wharf (2021).
GEORGE STRICKLAND (he/him)
George is a musical director based in Manchester. He graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music in 2017 with a Masters degree on oboe. Since graduating, George has focussed on musical direction and has enjoyed a varied career as a musical director, rehearsal pianist and vocal coach working across many genres.
George has performed around the country at venues including Cadogan Hall, Wigmore Hall, The Royal Albert Hall, The Other Palace, The Union Theatre and the Bridgewater Hall, as well as appearing on CBBC with the West End Musical Choir.
He also works as an orchestrator and arranger and has had his work performed around the UK. George’s previous work includes Lucie Jones At Christmas (Her Majesty’s Theatre, London/St David’s Hall, Cardiff) Jason Mansford's Christmas Charity Concert (Bridgewater Hall, Manchester) and An Evening with Rob King (The Lowry, Salford). He has also provided orchestrations, vocal arrangements and tracks for the UK Tour of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” (Red Entertainment).
Current/Upcoming Projects: Bette: From Bathhouse to Broadway (Co-writer and MD: Independent), Soul Sisters (MD, UK Tour: Red Entertainment).
Recent credits: The Regulars in Concert (MD: Hope Mill), An Evening with Rob King (MD/Orchestrator: The Lowry), Sweet Charity (MD: RNCM), “Beauty and the Beast” (MD: UK Productions), “Urinetown” (MD: RNCM).