The writer and composer chatted to Emma Clarendon about his new musical St Anne Comes Home, playing as part of the Iris Theatre’s Summer Festival.
Hi Jack thanks for talking to me. Could you explain what St Anne Comes Home is about? St. Anne Comes Home is about a man, James, who sleeps in the archway of church. Some of the congregation are welcoming, but some are not. He meets Bridget, a churchgoing woman who recognises a troubled soul much like herself. The two strike up conversation over cups of tea and realise they both are in need of help from the other.
After a misunderstanding, there’s pressure on the Priest to ban James from coming back to the church, and he wrestles with the best way to fix the situation. I think the show is a statement about the power of community, and how fear and pride factor into personal decisions. It’s sometimes much
easier for somebody else to spot what your own problems might be but reaching out is the first hurdle.
How did the idea for the musical come about? I was on a bus at night and drove past St. Anne’s Church in Vauxhall. It was raining, and there was a
man sat in the archway taking shelter. Something about that image was beautiful to me. A church is thought of as a sanctuary. There is something very calming about it, which all ties into the idea of shelter. But what if that was challenged because of individual circumstance? I imagined a life for that man – who he was, why he was there. By the end of the bus ride, I had come up with the title and a concept, but it took a year from having that first thought to actually write anything. It was such a simple and fascinating idea, but I found it difficult to connect to, until I came across a style of music through which I could perfectly tell the story.
What was your inspiration musically for the piece? I went to a folk gig in a little church near Euston to see an artist called Blue Rose Code. I’ve followed him for a while because his contemporary, Caledonian take on the genre is truly unique. He is able to delicately weave stories into his music like nobody else. As soon as he began to play something clicked for me. Likely due to the combination of the sound and the setting. I started taking notes for St. Anne; plot ideas, song titles, character traits – probably
much to the confusion of the person I attended with. Towards the end of the performance, there was an almost magical moment where the church bells rang in time and in tune with the song playing, and I saw the band all smile at each other. It wasn’t planned or rehearsed. It was clearly just a very
wonderful coincidence. That was when I was sure that this was the way to tell this story.
How does it feel to know that it is going to perform as part of the Iris Theatre Summer Festival? It’s a beautiful and unique outdoor space in the heart of the West End. What’s not to love?! We’re in tremendously exciting company too, it’s a really varied programme of events with something for everyone. We’ve been exploring performance options for this show for a while, and we were always drawn to the idea of a church. I think it’s the best way to capture the atmosphere that we’re after with the
piece. I didn’t think we’d get such a perfect opportunity so soon!
While there has been so much heartbreak for this industry at this time – do you think it has also provided a bit of an opportunity for new work to take the spotlight – even if it is not in the way anyone expected? I think I can speak for everyone involved in the festival to say we’re incredibly lucky to be able to mount any kind of production right now. I think there’s a lot of anxiety that once the situation settles,theatre companies will only want to produce simple, low-cost productions with star casting – even more so than they did before. And I fear it’s already starting!
I want to demonstrate that storytelling should always be at the heart of theatre. I think new work like this is free from a lot of burdens that comes with having an established name. I don’t want to hear the same story again and again and again, I want new, engaging tales that make me think! We
can’t possibly have run out of those! My favourite shows are the ones where you get swept up in the characters, and their situations and
struggles. That’s what matters to me.
What have you enjoyed the most about creating St Anne Comes Home? First and foremost, the music. I adore this genre. The power of folk music to tell stories is unrivalled. In terms of orchestration, I’ve also not had the opportunity to write for these three instruments (acoustic guitar, violin, and double bass) together before. It’s a simple combination, but so effective.
I’m hopeful for future productions, as I want to experiment with an ensemble, and maybe throw a viola and a mandolin into the band too. The development process. Pre-lockdown, we had workshopped sections of the show multiple times,trying to find out the details of the story, and how best that was explored through the text and music. Our director Martha Geelan, who has also dramaturged the piece for the last year, has been a
wonder. I’ve learnt so much about establishing and developing character from her. The collaboration has been unique, of course. The online aspects of the production’s journey have been a novelty; we’ve had Zoom production meetings that go on for hours, breaking sequentially every forty minutes.But all in all, it’s not been that different from a normal process.
How would you describe the show? A lesson in the importance of listening, and the value of empathy. Especially considering the current
climate. These are fundamental societal principles, and so it’s really appropriate that we get to put this show on right now.
By Emma Clarendon