Saturday, 12 May 2012

Touched... Like a Virgin: composing after Madonna

From next Tuesday night onward I'll be performing alongside actress Sadie Frost - a bit of a hero of mine because of this video - and singer Dave Wickenden - of the legendary Four Poofs & Piano, formerly Jonathan Ross's house-band and Edinburgh Fringe stalwarts - at the Soho Theatre in London. The production is a play called Touched... Like a Virgin, by playwright Zoe Lewis, produced by Sally Humphreys Productions.

This is exciting not only for the obvious reasons but also on a personal level: my mother, playwright Marta Emmitt, was Writer-in-Residence at Soho in 2000; her play Cadillac Ranch was performed there. This a place that excited me when I was twelve years old, and now I'm performing there, which for me is the most amazing thing about this.

It's also extremely challenging, not least because the play is about an obsessive Madonna fan and - while it is emphatically not a Madonna musical - it calls for a selection of Madonna's songs to be used as musical interludes, as well as original music to underscore the scenes.

Writing after Madonna is very interesting: if you want to read a really great piece of musicological analysis, try a wikipedia page on a Madonna song (e.g.): you can see how the songs display different styles at different points, how they move between textures and vocal registers, etc. I've been trying to arrange the songs in ways that reflect the various mental states of the protagonist. One challenge is choosing which aspects of the piece I can bring out with the minimal set-up I've got (a loop pedal borrowed from sound artist Sholto Dobie, a glockenspiel borrowed from Sleeping Passengers bassist Will Kerr, an upright piano and an acoustic guitar). While I wouldn't normally do this, I'm putting up a demo I've done - with help from fellow Sleeping Passenger Nina Scott - of Material Girl; I'd be interested to see what people think of it.

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