Stratford Musical Theatre Company are brightening up the week with their 1980s-inspired show Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat which runs until Saturday. Herald arts speaks to director Andrew Anderson about the flamboyant youth production.
Hi Andrew — can you introduce yourself to Herald arts readers?
I came to Stratford in 1996 to study at the Shakespeare Institute and decided to stay. I used to act and direct a lot in the early days, mostly Shakespeare, although I always tried to include big, fun set pieces in my shows. I became a teacher in the 2000s and found I didn’t really have the time for productions. Last year I decided to change career which means I have more time to do other things.
Last year I wrote a book which encourages people to use writing and storytelling for mindfulness. That’s out in May.
One of the things I really wanted to do was to direct a show again, so when this opportunity came up, I jumped at the chance.
Joseph has been around for a while — what does it mean to you?
I LOVE this musical. It was the first proper West End musical I saw when I was younger, and it had a really profound affect on me. I saw the 1992 production with Philip Schofield and it just took my breath away. It was so bright and fun. I remember leaving the theatre in a state of shock, not really able to take in the full spectacle. I bought myself the tape and learned the whole thing by heart. Yes, I’ve known that list of colours since 1992! I even planned my own production, how I wanted to stage it, who I wanted to cast. I was intrigued by the role of the narrator – I think that’s the part I’ve always wanted to play. So Joseph really reminds me of being young and having big, beautiful dreams of the future.
What relevancy does the show have for today?
The world can seem like a dark and dangerous place at the moment. The TV is full of bad news, people are arguing about politics. Every day there seems to be a different scare story. Imagine growing up with all of that darkness and conflict around. So this feels like the perfect musical for this time; something that gets us singing together, something bright and colourful, something that get us dreaming again. I’ve deliberately brought some elements of our world into the show, not to make it political, but so that we can have a bit of a laugh at them.
There have been lots of versions of Joseph. What are you bringing to the show?
I didn’t want to just replicate the standard production set in Egypt and Canaan in biblical times. As this show has such a nostalgic feel for me I decided I wanted it to have a really 1980s look, taking me and the parents of the cast back to their childhoods! However, I also want it to reflect the world around us. So the best way I can describe the concept is as if the 80s are happening now. I also wanted the children to participate in creating the show and the characters, so some of them have had a free reign in designing their costume, making it eclectic and personal. There are also some elements which are there specifically to explore the way young people see the world, so, for example, we have mixed in some elements of reality TV. You may find a few famous faces popping up!
Tell us about the cast — who is involved?
We have an amazing cast. I know every director says that but I have been seriously impressed with the young people in this show. Nathan Woolley who plays Joseph is astonishing. He is a very natural, very likeable Joseph who will break your heart as well as making you smile. Instead of one narrator we have five — Beth, Darcey, Imie, Kate and Poppy. They are a girl group who will guide the audience through the action. They each have great voices and strong characters, so I think everyone is going to love them. Everyone always waits to see Pharaoh, and Alex Fox has given us a unique take on the role. Our cast ranges from ages seven to 18.
Joseph’s coat is a little different in this show and we have 16 young people each playing a different colour. They are his friends, his confidants, and are at the heart of the show.
What’s happening on a technical front? How is it being staged?
Chris Johns, our designer, and Katy Tunstall, our art director, have created a space that is Egyptian but also feels like a 1980s nightclub! It’s astonishing. This is certainly going to be a bright production with ultraviolet elements to costumes and neon make-up. Lewis McMillan has done a great job with the lighting and pretty much thrown everything at this show – lasers, mirror balls, projections and smoke. All of our tech team have worked incredibly hard to bring this to the stage and I can’t thank them enough.
How do you cope with the musical element?
I’m incredibly lucky to have Jessica Friend as my musical director. Jess has so much experience of working with groups of people to develop their singing. She heads up the SMTC choir and leads courses on technique and characterisation. We both had a really similar vision for the show and how we wanted the young people to create their own characters. Thankfully, we also have Julie Howard working with us on the show and she has choreographed some amazing set pieces. I think 1989 was probably the last time I danced, so Julie’s expertise was vital!
Who was your favourite Joseph?
It has to be Philip Schofield. I mean, who knew he was going to be that good? Back then he did the links between children’s TV shows and hung out with Gordon the Gopher so the fact he was such a brilliant Joseph was a revelation to everyone.
What is your dream?
For a long time while I was teaching it was my dream to direct a play again. And, of course, when I was 18, it was my dream to direct a production of Joseph. I’ve realised both of those dreams in this production. I suppose it’s time to find a new dream now!
When and Where: SMTC’s production of Joseph and His Technicolor Dreamcoat is on at Stratford Play House until Saturday. Performances are at 7pm, with an additional matinee show on Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets are available from www.stratfordplay.co.uk