IN CONVERSATION WITH THE CREATORS OF THE CLOCKMAKER’S DAUGHTER
There is something wonderful about becoming lost in a story, but as we grow up our imaginations and our natural tendency to dream can dwindle. The Clockmaker’s Daughter, making its debut at The Landor Theatre at the end of May, is a brand new musical fairytale that will attempt to recapture this childhood sense of fantasy. It has all the ingredients necessary to do this, to absorb us into a world infinitely more magical than our own. Co-creators Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn are brimming with ambition and belief in what they have written, and have the talent to justify it.
The magic of theatre, that one special moment in a show where music, storytelling and imagery combine perfectly is perhaps the closest you can come to capturing this illusive feeling as an adult. “It’s the shiver test” says Michael. Daniel elaborates, “It’s involuntary… You get that flush at the back of your neck. You can’t control it.” Whether it’s from their own writing and seeing the production begin to take shape, or from work by those that inspire them, it seems that a passion to tell a great story is their driving force. Let’s face it, who wouldn’t like to escape into a fairytale?
They are naturally excited but daunted at the prospect of sharing their show with the paying public. “Having people see your show is a completely new thing to me” says Michael, “I’m excited by that, but equally terrified.” Any artist with a passion for their work can relate to this fear, but early signs indicate that they have nothing to worry about. “The feedback has been astounding” says Daniel, as has the calibre of people that have been involved in the project up until now, including Artistic Director of the Landor Robert McWhir, who has been involved since its conception.
So was it always the plan to write an original story? “We went through a lot of different ideas before we landed on The Night Circus” (their only previous collaboration based on the novel by Erin Morgenstern), Daniel explains. “[But then] I was so frustrated with rights that I said [to Michael] I don’t want to do anything again that we have to fight for the rights for.” A logical decision to come to then, but in an industry so dominated of late by adaptations from films and novels, one that takes a certain amount of courage.
Influenced by the likes of Neil Gaiman and The Brothers Grimm, writing within the fantasy genre that they both grew up loving was the natural direction to go in. And so we find ourselves in the fairytale world of Spindlewood, a small Irish town at the turn of the 19th century.
Abraham is a clockmaker stricken with grief at the death of his wife. He creates a companion, a machine, a girl named Constance, but something happens that he could not have foreseen and cannot explain: She comes to life. Her curiosity about the world and desire to explore her humanity affects the townspeople and through her they begin to see their own lives anew. There are moments of lightness throughout this tale, but it is the underlying darkness that gives the story its emotional depth.
“The thing I love about [the stories of] Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen is that they are grim”, says Daniel. “They are dark. They are almost more powerful when they’re not glossed over.” There is a moral dilemma at the heart of all good folk tales and characters that blur the line between good and evil and this no exception. Michael gives an insight into Abraham’s character; “[He] starts with pure intentions and all the way through he means well, but by the end he’s corrupted.”
But the show is not without humour, and much of the time this comes from the attention that is lavished on every detail of the characterisations and dialogue. The ability to give each character, even those secondary to the main story, distinctive voices and make them feel real comes from working out every narrative point and identifying potential plot holes up front. “There is a reason why architects build a model before they build the house. It’s much easier to move a piece of cardboard than it is a brick wall” Daniel says. “It’s good to get it right, but then the fun starts.”
Where the music itself is concerned, it’s clear they’ve had a lot of fun. Sweeping melodies that evoke Alan Menken are interspersed with fast-paced and lyrically challenging “Sondheim moments”. “I tend to write after people I like” Michael says, citing both musical theatre greats as influences. Although they share a mutual love of folk music, and have drawn upon it to inform the overall sound of the show, “a folk player would probably sit and go ‘this isn’t folk, it’s musical theatre’”.
Yes, it is. And it makes no apologies for it. Webborn & Finn have written a complex, nuanced piece of theatre that puts storytelling at its heart. Brimming with originality, The Clockmaker’s Daughter manages to retain a comforting sense of familiarity and tradition while at the same time feeling fresh and exciting. Michael and Daniel appear to work well together, their easy rapport with each other and confidence in the partnership bodes well for this show and projects to come. To find writers who write what they love and hope others will love it too, and a team around them willing to take a chance on the unknown, is refreshing.
With just over a month to go before the run begins, it is surely well on its way to becoming the finished product. Having been lucky enough to listen to the demo recordings and see the working script, it is evident that this duo, and the show they have created, have a lot of promise. If the other elements of the production come together to be as strong as the material itself, Landor audiences are about to be treated to a real gem.
– – – – – – – – – –
Interview by Catherine Duffy
The Clockmaker’s Daughter
27th May – 4th July 2015
Tickets now on sale at http://www.landortheatre.co.uk