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The artistic directors of London Theatre Workshop talk to Tom Wicker about taking new musical APARTMENT 40C into town and their plans for the future!

Told over the course of one evening, new musical Apartment 40C follows the lives of a couple living in New York. Six actors play the role of Kathryn and Edward at different stages in their thirty-year relationship, from falling in love to falling out of love, to dealing with the unexpected.

This bitter-sweet story examines decades of love, happiness, regret and loss through emotionally powerful lyrics and melodies. With book and lyrics by Ray Rackham and music from Tom Lees, it's transferring to the St James Theatre Studio in central London from 6 to 12 April, following a successful first run last year at London Theatre Workshop, in south-west London.

Apartment 40C is Rackham and Leesís musical-writing dťbut as a creative partnership and represents an important milestone in the evolution of London Theatre Workshop, where they are artistic directors.

Founded in 2012 by Rackham and creative producer Sarah Shelton above the Eelbrook pub in Fulham, the 60-seat London Theatre Workshopís mission is to bring together commercial theatre, workshops, staged readings and education Ė and to provide up-and-coming artists with a platform.

Shortly before Apartment 40Cís transfer to St James, I met with Rackham and Lees at London Theatre Workshop to discuss ego-free collaboration, getting a new musical off the ground and creating a safe space for both creatives and audiences to explore new work and have fun.

What was the genesis of Apartment 40C?

RR: It started originally as a very broad treatment for what I considered to be a play about relationships, which is obviously entirely original! It started on a flight that I was taking to New York. As we flew into the city the big thing for me was looking at these huge buildings I was above, and there seemed to be this bustling metropolis. And I loved the idea of having a very intimate play about a partnership, or a couple, or a pair Ė whatever it may be, but in one of the busiest cities in the world. On the flight back, I began to write the treatment and early bits of dialogue. It seemed, probably by osmosis, very much like a New York story, or at least set there. I was very keen for it to be a piece that starts and finishes in almost real time, during which we learn an enormous amount about the characters.

We opened this space Ė London Theatre Workshop Ė and part of that was actually building it. Tom and I worked on the back wall, painting, and doing this whole thing, as we were preparing to musically direct Adam Gwon's Ordinary Days. And as we were doing that, we just got talking about this idea. There were a couple of pages of treatment and some very early drafts of dialogue, and we decided that a lot of it should be sung.

TL: Rayís book and lyrics and Iím music. I came on board with that piece just by chatting about ideas. We wanted to write something and when we were working together on Ordinary Days we were coaxing ideas out of each other early on. We started talking about the show in February or March last year, and we wrote the second half in September. But it didnít feel rushed. Once we got going, it all just flowed out. And rehearsals started happening almost as the show was being finished. Now, revisiting it for St James, whatís interesting is that some of the very early lyrics and song drafts have become themes that have taken over the musical.

RR: I think whatís interesting Ė and what we canít deny Ė is an absence of preciousness in the way we work. Itís not that I closely guard my book or the lyrics, and likewise with the music, we collaborate in many ways. We ask each otherís counsel on almost everything and I think that has created a sense of mutual ownership of the piece as opposed to direct roles and responsibilities. Iíve just found that massively liberating.

What are the key themes of the show?

RR: There are two big themes, from a book and character perspective. Itís the idea that the past informs the future Ė this concept of time being really very important. Who knows how long you have or what the important things were of yesterday; you suddenly wake up one morning and realise how significant something was. The other big thing for me was this idea of parent and child, being a parent Ė or wanting to be one, or being over-protected by one. What are those relationships and how do these then inform the relationship you have with you partner?

TL: I think that came out, in a way, from the lyrics. One of the first songs was ĎI Readí, which is about the books read to you by your parents. Itís about stories; a lot of the book and particularly that section of the show is about story-tellingÖ

RR: ĎI Readí was our first song and has informed so much of the show. Itís about buying into a fairytale or believing in a fairytale or hoping for a fairytale ending.

How do you find the characters in the music, as well in as the book and lyrics?

TL: In the latter stages, itís been defined by whatís already happened musically. So we had a run of the show in December and transfer to the St James next week, and weíve written four new songs in between. Those songs were very informed by some of the actors who had portrayed the roles last year. Earlier on, we always had lyrics before music Ė even if we had a slight idea of sound or had talked quite extensively about the songs first.

RR: Also, the lyrics are informed entirely by our early conversations about who the characters are, where in their lives they were and what they are most scared of. It was about really understanding that, as we started to write lyrics for them.

Had you ever planned for it to transfer?

TL: I think it would have been a bit arrogant, before anyone had ever seen it Ė which was the situation it was in at the end of November. The only people whoíd heard the songs were us and the actors! We had no idea that it would go down so well. We thought it was good, and we liked it, but then we wrote itÖ

RR: It was wonderful surprise, really, that there was interest in moving it out of London Theatre Workshop and to somewhere else.

So how did the move to St James arise?

RR: One of the actors, Peter Gerald, had played at the St James Studio previously and had mentioned to them that there was this piece and that it would seem appropriate for there. We were invited to go and see them and we had a really nice conversation about it Ė and about what we wanted to do with it next. We didnít want it to just be a museum piece that happened in December and that was the show that would then move on. We wanted it to keep evolving. After that conversation, it just seemed like the perfect venue.

Is this an important step for London Theatre Workshop?

TL: Yes, absolutely. Itís essential. Itís one of the things we talked about. Why are we doing this? The writing of it has been interesting and very artistically fulfilling, but for London Theatre Workshop, we want to get an audience in here. Weíre looking to find new audiences all the time. Thatís definitely the biggest challenge since we opened. So hopefully, this is going to raise our profile.

RR: This venue is enormously dear to us Ė weíre the artistic directors and we built the space. But with anything that comes into London Theatre Workshop, from visiting companies to something weíre doing in-house, our view is always that it should be the start of a journey. So the fact that Apartment 40C is our first transfer is incredibly fulfilling.

Do you see London Theatre Workshop as an important link in the same chain as St Jamesís Theatre, which has become a testing ground for work before transferring elsewhere?

RR: I think itís really interesting. We would love this place to be somewhere for people to have fun, try things out and most importantly put their work in front of an audience. When your show is ready, how are you going to get it out there and let it be seen? This venue could be part of that process, that journey for lots of shows.

How easy is it to launch a brand new musical? Thereís a perception that thereís not always the support there could be. Is that one of the functions youíre providing with London Theatre Workshop?

TL: Thereís a logistical difficulty in putting on a musical. Itís not necessarily an attitude thing, because I think people are very aware that new musicals arenít put on that much. Itís expensive but this place really does make it quite easy for people to get to a certain level and then even further.

RR: Yes, and particularly with Apartment 40C, weíve had a lot of people contact us about what this place is about, whether they can put on a musical here, can we give them any level of support. Even at the very base level we can provide some space Ė a daytime workshop or something like that, a safe space for development then thatís great.

Was the choice of location for London Theatre Workshop strategic?

RR: I always wanted to have my own space, in a sense of not just for stuff that Iím doing, but for the kind of theatre that Iím very interested in. Iíve been very fortunate that weíve met a bunch of people who share our interests. In terms of this venue, Iíd love to say it was strategic, but it was more a case of having a drink downstairs and asking the bar manager! This was just an old function room, which hadnít been used for many years.

Did you renovate it all by yourselves?

TL: With some help! But it was a case of gutting the place and laying a new floor. It really was nothing like it is now.

So how did the two of you come to meet?

TL: It was when Ray was directing Stephen Sondheim's Assassins at the Pleasance. I was a student at Goldsmithís studying musical theatre writing. I really liked the production and got chatting to him about it. We stayed in contact.

RR: Tomís going to blush now, but I wanted an absolutely brilliant musician to work with me on Ordinary Days, which became London Theatre Workshopís first show, and he really wanted to do it. It just grew from there. When I was almost signing the lease for this place, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. The cast for Ordinary Days were extremely patient, because we literally built the theatre around them. The good thing was that we rehearsed all of the time in this space! Our writing partnership just evolved from our shared interest in similar types of theatre and from being able to have some good and candid conversations.

What are your musical inspirations? Youíve talked elsewhere about Sondheim, Ray.

RR: His lyrics absolutely haunt me. As a writer, Sondheim always says that he writes in a collaborative partnership with the book-writer, so his songs come from the characters. For me, I think there are piercing lyrics in his repertoire that just get me, but my lyrical style isnít very Sondheim! Iíd love it to be in many ways.

Company would seem to deal with some of the same themes as Apartment 40C.

RR: Yes, and Iíve directed Company a few times. The big thing for me and Sondheimís work is that I started out very much as a fan and then spent a lot of time working on his pieces and reading about his work and what he finds important.

What about you, Tom?

TL: Musically, itís difficult. I donít listen to anything and try to mimic it. Itís not usual musical theatre, although I enjoy that. My music definitely has pop aspects but itís probably coupled most of all with quite classically romantic themes. There are probably a lot of influences Iím not aware of.

RR: Itís probably arrogant to say that we have our own style, but I do genuinely think that our style is ours. There are moments when Tom has composed something and he and I have had a shared imagination of what that might be; particularly in the later songs, itís felt quite easy. We havenít been banging our heads against the writing desk or the piano!

So, whatís up next, after Apartment 40C?

RR: London Theatre Workshop will be opening an in-house production, called Vote For Me. It ties in with the General Election, but is a US Presidential Debate where the audience gets somewhat involved as well. That will run throughout the whole of May, and as for Apartment 40C, weíre just absolutely thrilled that itís going to the St James.

Ray, you started your working life as a lawyer. How does working in theatre compare in terms of stress?

RR: Itís a different kind of stress, but itís exactly the same level! But, like Tom, Iím really passionate about it, which helps you cope.

I say this all the time, but what London Theatre Workshop is about is the absence of preciousness. This should be a fun place where you can see something that youíll enjoy, that might challenge you, but which is never elitist – we canít be in a 60-seater theatre in a pub. We need to play to our strengths and thatís to be as welcoming as we can.

For more information on London Theatre Workshop, go to: http://londontheatreworkshop.co.uk/

To book tickets for Apartment 40C at St James Theatre, see: http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/studio/

Box Office: 0844 264 2140

£18 Tickets

£15 Easter Ticket Offer on Easter Monday, 6th April and Wednesday 8th April matinťe. Quote 'EASTERAP40C' at the Box Office. Read more about the show on www.apartment40c.com






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Interview with Caroline Partridge

Meet People Show artist Gareth Brierley

Interview with George Mann

Meet Phillip Brook, star of Uncle Barry at the Blue Elephant

Interview with Fin Kennedy

Interview with James Graham

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown V

Interview with Cath Whitefield, now appearing at The Gate

Interview with Lavern Archer

Royal Court Announces Autumn Season

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown IV

Marketing Managers on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown III

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown II

Marketers On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

Arcola to Create World's First Carbon Neutral Theatre

Interview with Nell Leyshon, Writer of Glass Eels at the Hampstead Theatre

A New Start for the Southwark Playhouse

The Mark Shenton Show

Theatre has moved on - whatever we critics think

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