Traditional fourth wall
A Merry Little Christmas
A woman has to get through cooking Christmas lunch for the family. Or maybe because of the family. She has a silent piano player to help her, though. And an audience. This is a one-act catalogue musical of traditional Christmas songs, drawn around a narrative that is both heartfelt and hopeful.
Breaking the fourth wall
Based on the novel by my sister Sandi Toksvig, and written in collaboration with composer Alexander Rudd, Hitler's Canary tells the story of the Toksvig family's work in the Danish resistance movement during the Second World War. The show is designed to be an immersive audience experience, in which we step into the world of the family and experience the war through their eyes. It includes live response to the show by artist Laurie Pink.
We developed this work in collaboration with the Danish musical theatre development company Uterus and Watford Palace Theatre, and with the support of Arts Council England.
Our company was full of regular Copenhagen Interpreters: Niall Ashdown, Emma Manton, Kyle McPhail, Charlotte Palmer, Andrew Pembrooke, Laurie Pink, Sophie Trott, Matthew Woodyatt, Louise Voce.
Here's Kyle McPhail talking about our process.
Here's Michael Xavier singing The Pen Song from the show.
The fantastic Coney did a scratch night at Camden People's Theatre, and helped me figure out a way to scratch Accompanying.
Audience members were given the option to Accompany each other in pairs or threes throughout the immersive evening. The purpose of Accompanying was simply to do some active listening to one another in conversations about the goings on during the event. To remind them that they were being Accompanists to one another, each Accompanist tied a piece of red wool around their finger.
We captured some responses to the process on bits of brown paper that we'd left lying around. Here are some of the things people said:
- The ppl I'm accompanying seem unsure. I don't want to leave them alone because they seem anxious + a little sad.
- Enjoying the collective experience & looking after each other. Feels more 'present' as an experience
- Nice to be looked after + good way to get out of conversations you don't want to be in
- a cool play to enjoy the moment of interacting with others. listening myself voices inside.
Here are some thoughts/questions we found from the scratch:
- What is the least you need to know in order to Accompany?
- There is great intensity in one-on-one Accompanying.
- What if we had Professional Accompanyists, someone you didn't know?
- When is discomfort good & useful? What might be the benefits of getting beyond discomfort / inhibitions?
- People bring fear with them from home. Also, everything else. We use their toolkit, not vice versa.
- This is about each audient crossing a series of thresholds.
- The experience of the audient is pre-lingual.
Engagers / Capturers / Archivists
During the Coney scratch, a lot of questions and thoughts emerged about how we might capture something of a live experience, which for me is part of immersion. There's more about that under Capture.
Live Motion Capture
We did some work with live, instant motion capture on film. Some day, when technology allows, I hope it will form part of this kind of immersive theatre. There's more about it below, in Transmedia.
Open Space Technology
I'm a big fan of making work in tribes and Open Space continues to be a big influence on my development of The Copenhagen Interpretation. My main Open Space home is at Improbable's annual Devoted & Disgruntled.
I am part of The Chaosbaby Project, which was led by Stella Duffy and made in Open Space. I was photographer for the project, where I began developing ideas for capturing live performance.
As a tribe, many of us continue to work together in a network of connections on all kinds of projects, currently including the Fun Palaces project and Jennifer Lunn's From Russia, For Love with her company, Culturcated Theatre.
A Shropshire Lad
Theatre-maker Niall Ashdown has composed some beautiful songs using the World War I poetry of A.E. Hausmann as lyrics. Now he's weaving those songs into a narrative, and I'm assisting him in developing the work to a performance stage.
Eventually, it will be a piece that gives a structure through which communities can weave their own local history from the period, in performance and presentation, to create a village hall experience that uniquely captures that time and place.
I developed some very short choral musicals in collaboration with some magnificent creative women, which are designed to be audio-only: either for radio / podcast, or for live performance to a blindfolded audience.
- Cowboys & Mermaids with theatre-maker Stella Duffy and silent film accompanist / Dalcroze expert Mary Price O'Connor. Inspired by the folklore superstition that you can whistle up a storm at sea.
- The Wyld Hunt with novelist Manda Scott and sound designer Adrienne Quartly. Inspired by the folklore superstition that Herne The Hunter leads a wyld group of British heroes, chasing the souls of the dead across the sky in a display of ultimate power.
- Voices From The Beehive with novelist Joanne Harris and composer Rebecca Applin. Inspired by the folklore superstition that a hive of bees must be told if the Beekeeper dies, or they will swarm away.
Theatre, Film and Gaming
When I immerse audients in a storyworld, I often find crossovers between their experience of live performance and the experience of playing games.
A lot of my research happens in the gaming world, and I'm continuously grateful for the wisdom and support of the component makers of companies like Coney, Hide&Seek, and others who share their ideas and make open work in this area.
Composer Cathy Shostak and I were originally commissioned to write a musical about Horatio Nelson by David Quayle and Quill Productions. Working with director David Gilmore and Musical Supervisor Mark Warman, we initially developed this show for traditional proscenium arch presentation, but over the years we used the material with great success in immersive performance on HMS Victory, in aid of The Royal Navy & Royal Marines Children's Charity, of whom we are big supporters.
Throughout its many incarnations, we have been delighted to work with some incredible performers, including Nigel Richards as Nelson.
Here's the cast from the Soho Theatre singing a song from the show, and Bonnie Langford singing another.
In collaboration with Chris Grady Dot Org, we were invited to a private exploratory workshop, to test some live motion capture equipment. Ultimately, making this part of live performance would bring a fully transmedia experience to storyworlding.
The Copenhagen Interpreters that day were Niall Ashdown, Will Close, Kas Darley, Jason Eddy, Sophie Trott and Louise Voce.
The Stones Are Hatching
In collaboration with composer Alexander Rudd, this is a planned adaptation of Geraldine McCaughrean's novel The Stones Are Hatching, exploding the narrative into transmedia storytelling: a core narrative told through short fillm episodes, surrounded by secondary stories and folklore facts told on social media.
We first adapted this novel for the stage. More about that in Youth Theatre.
I've started to explore the process of working as a writer with very physical performers, and briefly had the pleasure of joining amazing acrobats Tamzen Moulding and Sammy Dinneen on a new show they were developing.
Composer Dominic Haslam and I adapted Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel into a stage musical, which we developed over several years in collaboration with YMT.
Here's Dominic singing some demos from the show.
The Stones Are Hatching
Composer Alexander Rudd and I first adapted Geraldine McCaughrean's novel into a stage musical, which we also developed over several years in collaboration with YMT.
Here's Julie Atherton singing one song, and Alex singing another.
The Queen of Snow
Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen folk tale of the same name, composer Alexander Rudd and I reinvented this story for the youth theatre at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, working with my longterm director and dramaturg Julia Black.
Here's our demo of one of the songs.
Working with director Thomas Hescott, I adapted David Almond's novel The Savage into a stage musical, for The Arcola Theatre in Dalston.
Toksvig Perkins Shows
Composer David Perkins and I have a catalogue of shows for young performers, published by Samuel French. They're all designed to accommodate large casts aged 8+, most of them are just one act long, and they all have a simple setting and plenty of detailed and helpful production notes in the libretto. These shows were all created for, and developed with, the youth theatre at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, working with our longterm collaborator and friend Julia Black.
- The Curious Quest For The Sandman's Sand has a jazzy/bluesy score. When Harry The Sandman has his magic sand stolen by the Gump Grump, it's up to Jesse, Meggie and Teddy to get it back for him.
- Skool & Crossbones has a caribbean swing to the score. Some schoolkids have made their headmistress walk the plank, and taken over their school trip boat to be pirates. But when they come ashore on the island, they meet their match in the children who live there.
- Shake, Ripple &s Roll is a 1950s Rock & Roll musical set in New York: when Uncle Angelo's dies, his famous ice cream parlour is threatened with closure. When the manager took pity on Joey Nobody, a kid who showed up with amnesia, he had no idea that some day, Joey would save the whole store.
- Pandemonium! (a Greek Myth-adventure) is a two-act musical based on some famous Greek Myths. On Pandora's wedding day, she opens a present she shouldn't have opened. Can she get all the evils back into the box, or will Midas be greedy forever? Will Icarus be foolish and fly too close the sun? Will Narcissus ever stop staring at himself in the river?
- The Nutcracker takes the well-loved ballet story and reinvents it into a charming Christmas story about the power of Make Believe.
Alexander Rudd and I have been doing some writing outside the musical theatre world. This is a recent track.
An Englishman In Love In L.A.
Performer Richard Shelton has recorded an album of classic jazz, and he included a couple of new songs too. Alexander Rudd and I wrote the title track for him.
A Christmas Lullaby
Richard Shelton very kindly recorded a little Christmas lullaby for us too.
Figure Out You
One of a bunch of new pop songs Alex and I are working on.
This one is very personal.
Old Compton Street
Mercury Musical Developments put together a cabaret of new songs about Soho, so Alexander Rudd and I wrote this duet for two women and Simon Grieff produced a recording of it with Claire Moore and Niamh Perry.
Here are the recordings of all of those pop/cabaret songs.
iPad App Books
Birgitte Berteldatter's Brilliant Birds & Beasts
Published by Box Of Frogs Media, this iPad app book about strange creatures is for younger kids, and they can even use it to draw their own crazy animals.