Tess musical makes its stage debut in Stratford

Jessie Mae Thomas plays Tess

Stratford-based award-winning playwright and lyricist Michael Davies, and composer Michael Blore have created a sumptuous new adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Night Project Theatre are launching Tess on its creative journey with this first staging of the full production in a workshop production. It comes to the RSC’s The Other Place (TOP) on the 8th and 9th February (book tickets at www.rsc.org.uk). Here director/producer Ian Page tells Herald arts about the production.

Tell us how you got involved with Tess?

Night Project is a small independent amateur theatre company. I approached the composers early last year with the idea of putting on a performance having put together a cast of 12, which includes students, professional performers and amateurs. It’s classed as a workshop production because it’s the first performance of the piece on the stage. The composers are just going to sit back and observe, rather than be involved. It’s through-sung, as is the case with many musicals today, and we’re doing the entire piece onstage, with a set and a small band of three.

So a small local cast giving an epic show!

Yes! The cast are from all over – Evesham, Coventry, Walsall, Stratford and Solihull, so across the Midlands. Lyricist Michael Davies was keen to have the performance on his home patch. And after discussing various venues, the TOP has worked well for us — it’s fairly central and a great space. Tess is played by Jessie Mae Thomas, she is an alumni of Stratford College — she finished last year. She’s looking to pursue a career in the arts, so hopefully this will be a great opportunity to launch her career. She’s a great singer and performer.

Is it daunting giving it its first outing?

It’s exciting to be doing something new, but obviously we’ve got no point of reference so everything is about inventing how we stage it from scratch. Also the piece was conceived with having a much larger cast and band, so we’ve had to reduce it to a studio scale piece. It has been daunting but also very exciting exploring it.

How is the studio space working for you at TOP?

We’ve got it configured as standard end-stage configuration with the bleacher seating; we’re not playing in the round or anything, but it is going to be a completely open stage, without wings; so it will be very immediate for the audience. We only have the theatre for two days; we go in on the morning of the first performance on the Friday, so it’s going to be challenging!

Why should an audience go and see it?

It’s a brilliant way to explore Tess of the d’Urbervilles which is obviously one of the most famous tragedies to come out of the Victorian era. I love the story. Going to intimate theatre is a very exciting, and this is a small window of opportunity to see a very special piece in its home town in a very immediate environment. And we get no funding so we need an audience to turn up!

Tell us about the music.

As I said, it’s sung-through so no real dialogue. The music is very romantic but does dabble with a bit of Vaudeville on occasion. There’s some beautiful scores and some clever and witty lyrics that carry the narrative through. Really it’s one for fans of dramatic theatre and musical theatre.

When and where: Tess comes to The Other Place on 8th and 9th February. To book tickets visit www.rsc.org.uk/tickets/tess