So, a definitely-not-self-indulgent Q and A. I shall begin.
JAMES: So, Will – why me? Oh god, why me?
WILL: Well, I’m not entirely sure. We hadn’t known each other too long when I approached you. You’d foolishly cast me in a play you were directing in 2012 and so I guess I’d got used to you shouting at me and telling me everything I did was wrong. I suppose I must have been impressed by your organisation, your creativity and your musicality. Especially this last point, because musically I am enthusiastic but without any skill whatsoever.
JAMES: See, I hear you don’t like musicals. (In fact, I have it on good authority you like nothing, save your drinks cabinet.) Why collaborate on a musical?
WILL: This is almost a lie! I protest! I don’t like some musicals, it’s true. Lloyd-Webber’s charm eludes me for instance. Les Misérables is a mystery. Rent I wouldn’t. But I love Sondheim, Gershwin, Bernstein. That sort of thing. Things with actual music.
JAMES: OK, so I’m the “music man” (on tour round your way, dates TBC) but our division of labour isn’t that strict, is it?
WILL: Well no, our way of working (which you so ably summarised in the last blog) is rather more overlapping than that. Generally it’s been the case that I’ve written a block of text, dialogue, lyrics or whatever and then added some cryptic notes which hopefully you can decipher/ignore and then fashion in to something workable. I tend to think of any first draft I write as a ‘placeholder’, sometimes the lines will survive until the finished piece but mainly they serve as guide to what’s to come, to the rhythm of the piece and to where the laughs are.
On this point, it’s been a highlight for me that we generally get, even if we don’t agree, what the other one is getting at from a few lines in an email or tweet or whatever. I’ve never felt any frustration that we aren’t seeing the same play, how about you?
JAMES: I find it interesting that our visions of the play so closely align, even as it has evolved from a quickie to a more considered piece. I think we both feel a similar ownership over the material – you tend to originate the majority of the material, but mine tends to be the draft that gets put in front of the actors. Whenever I have ideas about the piece, you accept them enthusiastically, and when you have ideas you tend to be right. It’s a good collaboration.
WILL: Have you ever collaborated on a project before?
JAMES: Not in a writing sense. I’m good at collaborating in other areas of theatre and life (surprisingly, two different things), but with writing, I tend to be autonomous about it. I’ve been part of a few writing groups, and found the critique extraordinarily helpful, but originating something in collaboration was a new thing that I was keen to try. How about you?
WILL: Not on anything like this, no. In a previous life I’ve tried to write a sitcom but that didn’t get off the ground. I’ve been writing properly only since 2008 or so and really only in the last couple of years with any consistency. I think writing’s basically solitary but theatre lends itself to a more social approach. I’ve enjoyed being a duo.
Nando’s came from an idea I came to you with, did/do you ever feel constrained by working on something you didn’t originate?
JAMES: From the very first emails, we were collaborating. I wasn’t sent a script to adapt, we exchanged ideas for how the piece would work, then you wrote something up, which was free for either of us to fiddle with. Plus, I have a lot of independence when it comes to the music side of things. Do you object to ‘losing control’ of a piece yourself?
WILL: Not at all. I’m a big fan of editing in creative work and for me most of the best work on Nando’s has come on the edit, rather than the original idea. If you look back at our initial emails and indeed early drafts to where we are now they don’t bear comparison. I think it’s worth mentioning the cast here also, with such a small cast I’ve definitely felt they’re very important to the creative process. It’s been a collaboration all round, don’t you think?
JAMES: The cast definitely needs to be flagged up. So far we’ve worked with four incredible, enthusiastic people – some of whom volunteered before there was even a script, which was rash of them. We’ve worked in their best ideas, used them as inspiration for where we’ve taken the characters, but will stop far short of giving them appropriate credit or re-numeration.
WILL: Has your idea of what we can do with this changed over time? Have the two performances thus far, and their reception, been a factor in this?
JAMES: To be honest, I saw it as a one-shot deal. Perform it at Proteus, see how it goes down, then use what we’ve learnt indirectly elsewhere. I’m nervous of outstaying my welcome, thinking something that worked once or for one project will necessarily work elsewhere or for a longer period than agreed. However, I have always wanted to write a musical, so I didn’t take much convincing to extend and enhance this proposition. I like the fact that it seems to be working outside of our own entertainment. I even performed a song from it entirely devoid of context at a minuscule Warwickshire music festival and it elicited a chuckle or two. Confidence money can’t buy. Also, performing really points out the crap bits. What about you? And where do you see this project ending up? The Fringe? Broadway? Public television? Is there an end? I really hope at some point there’s an end, there are only so many cheap innuendos to cycle through.
WILL: It’s a good question. I think the full length Nando’s is going to be a beautiful thing and I’m looking forward to seeing it on the stage. It’d be great to see it grow, perhaps be toured and to take it to new audiences. Like you, I wouldn’t want to keep pushing it when it eventually gets to its sell by date – no one likes stinky chicken. But at that stage I’m sure we’ll have a number of new projects on the go to keep us busy. Assuming we’re still speaking…
JAMES: And I think that’ll do us. Thanks for dropping by, Will. What am I posting next week?
WILL: Pleasure. An interview with our male lead, James Bloomfield.
JAMES: Look forward to it.