Summer of Love: “I was not born under a rhyming planet”

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Much Ado About Nothing
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

One of the first things I was struck by when I first saw the Globe’s production of Much Ado (at its very first preview) was how much the music brought to it. The show is a delight of colour and sound, showing off as much of Mexican culture as it possibly can whilst remaining true to the spirit of the play. Music is there from about the five-minute call, remaining throughout the prologue of sorts (introducing the audience to the environment and context), up until the first scene proper. From then on, there are lots of other musical instances: the revelling at Leonato’s, Balthasar’s song, Hero’s wedding, the funeral procession, and even Benedick’s sorry attempt at serenading, to name but a few. And of course the final ‘jig’ – possibly my own personal favourite – which is an intense revolutionary anthem, befitting the theme of the piece.

The man responsible for this incredible score is Globe Music Associate James Maloney. This is far from being his first production at the venue, though it reunites him with director Matthew Dunster after last season’s Imogen. He has also released his debut album Gaslight recently, and will be providing the score for the animated film Nightingale later this year. James very kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for me about this production.

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Much Ado About Nothing
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

How did you prepare for writing the music to Much Ado, given its Mexican theme?

Ultimately, I tried to immerse myself in as much Mexican culture as was possible.  I was very keen not to deliver a ‘cartoon’ version of Mexicana, which would have been very easy, but instead wanted to pay respect to their wonderful musical tradition whilst also creating something that worked theatrically and narratively for our production.  

I watched a lot of films, read lots on Mexico, specifically the Mexican Revolution, and most importantly, listened to as much Mexican music as I could get my hands on.  The key moment of revelation was travelling, with Matthew the director, in Mexico for a week.  That’s where we really started to understand the pluralism of the musical landscape.  

Was the production always going to be quite musical, or did it get more so along the way?

It was quite organic, but ultimately, Much Ado is a musical text.  Within it are a couple of songs, a large masked-ball sequence, weddings and a funeral  – it’s fertile ground for music.  But in addition, it was largely a response to our experience in Mexico, where music and a festive spirit, is a central tenet of the culture.

How closely did you work with director Matthew Dunster and choreographer Charlotte Broom in the development of the production as a whole?

Matthew is a very musical person, and has a very acute understanding of the potential for music within theatre.  As such, we worked extremely closely from the outset.  When I started writing in earnest, I’d make demos and send them to him.  He’d feed back, and I’d make changes, and it evolved like that.  Something I found remarkable was that his musical suggestions always, without fail, improved my offering.  Very often you find yourself, as a composer, feeling like you’re compromising your vision when incorporating a director’s notes; in this instance, it was always for the better. 

Of course, the music would then evolve in the rehearsal room, as you hope it will when actors and musicians bring to it their personalities and skills, and Charlie would bring it to life through her great choreography. 

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Matthew Needham in Much Ado About Nothing
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

PJ Harvey’s ‘The Desperate Kingdom of Love’ features prominently – what led you to this particular song?

This was Matthew’s idea. There were a few contemporary songs that we’d been knocking about, which we felt spoke to the play in their lyrical content and in their musical feel.  And ultimately we landed on Desperate Kingdom of Love as it felt like a real anthem for Hero, and also for Margaret – speaking to the struggles of their experiences.  There was also something in PJ Harvey’s delivery of that song, and also in its musical construction, which isn’t a million miles away from certain Mexican song traditions.  We did a lot of work on the arrangements, and I think it fits into the musical tapestry of the production really neatly.

Do you have a favourite part of the score?

I always love seeing the Act 2 Scene 1 masked ball (or masked festival, in our production).  It’s a real love-song to Mexico – they’re singing about ‘LLorona’ – a Mexican folkloric character who permeates so much of the country’s culture, and the energy of the music really chimes with a lot of the celebratory spirit, and sense of fun we witnessed in Mexico.

It’s really not easy musically for the actors (they’re often in three-part harmony), and in addition they’re singing in Spanish, wearing masks, performing really ambitious choreography, and delivering spoken lines between the verses.  They worked really hard on all this, and I think it really pays off – I’m always really proud in that moment. 

On a personal level, this music means a lot as it’s the first thing that I sent Matthew as a demo that he really approved of, and as such, it became the breeze block on which the rest of the score was conceived.

Would you like to work on more Shakespeare productions in the future? If so, do you have any in mind?

Yes, I’d really love to – being able to explore the work of Shakespeare is an enormous privilege.  For the moment though, I’ve a couple of other projects I’m working on, so we’ll see what happens.

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Ashley Campbell and Jo Dockery in Much Ado About Nothing
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

So there you go! Thanks once again to James for taking the time to give this fascinating insight into his creative process and thoughts behind this stunning production. I think we can all agree that it is a true celebration of Mexico from start to finish. And now all we Much Ado devotees need is some kind of cast recording…

3 thoughts on “Summer of Love: “I was not born under a rhyming planet”

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