You’ve worked on a number of Belvoir shows, and the latest, A Taste of Honey, is about to open. Can you tell us a bit about your process? Does it change according to the director?
My basic process is actually quite similar on different shows. I watch rehearsals and imagine different music in my head. Then I find references, generate huge amounts of material and then I select only small parts of that to try. Only a smaller subsection of that makes it into the show.
What’s very different between shows is the nature of the material I make. I often work in very different genres, sometimes within the same show, for example, ancient choral music and psychedelic rock guitar.
An important part of my process involves enforced forgetfulness. When I write something, I immediately move on to something else to wipe my mind, and I won’t return to it until significant time has passed, so I can listen to it and not recognise it, so I don’t feel close to it anymore. That way you can ask yourself, in quite a cold, objective way, without feeling sentimental about your creation – is this right for the show?
Making decisions as late as possible is also important, and shouldn’t be mistaken for being lazy. The show is still quite unknown until the final week or so, so you don’t know if you’re making the right decisions until then. I frequently have to change my whole idea at the last minute. Again, I see this as a strength not a failure. I’ve seen many shows where they should have thrown out the music, not because the music wasn’t good in itself, but because it wasn’t right for the show. And of course I’ve made that mistake myself.
How many times do you read the script before mapping out what music will be used?
I don’t pore over the script that much. But I do watch almost all the rehearsals. I score the production not the play.
For something like A Taste of Honey where music is intrinsic to the script but it isn’t prescribed, how do you go about choosing what to use?
Stage directions are usually just a description of what happened in the first production of a play, or else they were put there by the author before rehearsals to make an intention clear. They are a good point of reference, but can be safely ignored most of the time. Unless it results in you getting sued!
What is involved in being a sound designer versus being a composer for the theatre?
The terms are confusing and the overlap large. I always do both so I don’t really know where the dividing line lies! When the job is split, those two people have to agree on a way to work together. The combination involves everything from scoring for bassoon to minimising noise floor in a gain structure.
What’s your favourite part of being a sound designer?
Writing music that functions perfectly in a production.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
Roy Orbison on loop. It’s the only thing my eight-month-old daughter will sleep to in the car. I wish I had more time for domestic listening.
Do you have a suggested playlist for people coming to see A Taste of Honey?
A Taste Of Honey was quite influential on popular music. Morrissey from The Smiths was famously a fan, and included many lines from the play and movie in his songs.
I’d start with:
Morrisey said “I’ve never made any secret of the fact that at least 50 percent of my reason for writing can be blamed on Shelagh Delaney.”
The song A Taste Of Honey was written for the Broadway production and became a pop hit in the 1960s, including a version by The Beatles.