Writer & director Barra Collins and composer & sound designer Ellie Isherwood talk about their collaboration on The Light Princessplaying the Albany Deptford this Christmas.
Tell us a bit about The Light Princess
EI: I’ll let you answer that one, Barra.
BC: The Light Princess is a Scottish fairytale by George MacDonald, first published in 1864. The story follows a Princess who floats. But hey, we all float to start with – nestled in the warm waters of the womb. This girl just never stopped. As soon as I read it, I knew that The Light Princess had some pretty urgent and exciting things to say about the world – about love, friendship and disability. In the original tale, the climax comes when the Princess finds love, is “fixed” and can keep her feet on the ground. Our story is a little different. I mean, why change the Princess when you can change the world!?
The show is ultimately about two little girls who build a better world so that they can play together. It is an exciting new musical for families with an absolutely epic score, fabulous choreography and full of JOY! And turnips.
How did you come to be working together on this project?
EI: Barra got me on board for an R&D of another of his shows a few years ago about climate change, staged in a massive nightclub outside of Greenwich, where I made and performed a live electronic underscore and soundscape.
BC: That was pretty special.
EI: Yeah, it was a lot of fun and gave us a great insight into each others work! Then Barra gave me a call asking what I thought about making a musical together and it was an immediate yes from me… I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me that, I love musicals, I’ve been performing in them since I was a child, but I’ve always wanted to write the music for one!
BC: I pitched the idea in summer 2022 and the Albany (in London) and Arc (in Stockton) co-commissioned it as their Christmas shows for 2023 and 2024 respectively. Ellie was my first-choice composer right from the pitch. I knew that her electronic, synth-pop sound would be perfect for the effervescent world of The Light Princess.
What have your respective roles been and how are preparations going?
EI: So I’m the composer, sound designer and musical director for the show.
BC: And I am the writer and the director.
EI: Preparations have been going really well! It was a godsend to have three weeks of R&D spaced over the last year, it’s given me the opportunity to play with different ideas, test out demos of the songs with different performers and really hone in on what the sound of the show is, what it’s unique personality is and really get into how the songs are doing the storytelling not just in the lyrics but in the music itself.
BC: There is something magical about collaborating with a composer. I always feel so grateful, so emotional, when I get demos through from Ellie. Seeing how she has brought not only my lyrics but the world of the show to life in unimaginably cool ways.
EI: It’s been an incredible journey and now watching how the songs take on a whole new lease of life when placed in the hands of our brilliantly talented cast… it’s just very cool.
BC: There are riffing pop vocals, garage beats and even a double bass-pedal for juvenile metal heads. We just started tech today and everything is looking great, the actors are brilliant and we are just so excited to see it all come together. AND get it in front of an audience!
Do you each have a favourite moment in the show?
EI: I think my favourite moment is the first time the music kicks in, which is a little way into the opening of the show, and it follows the line “here we go!!”, the cymbals rumble in and it makes for a really theatrically transformative moment- it makes me very happy!!
BC: I think its got to be Day After Day for me. The two girls have found each other, and they just want to spend every moment together. Everything else is just “so dull”. It’s a beautiful song and really sums up the spirit of the show. If you fancy a sneak peak of the music you can listen to the track here – https://youtu.be/CQpGfXI0jWg
What makes this show different from all the other Christmas shows available this year?
BC: What do you think, Ellie?
EI: I would say that it gives you all the cosy Christmassy feelings but also offers something completely new within that… there’s a few sleigh bells and sparkling chimes here and there for good measure, but also a heck of a lot of shredding electric guitar licks and U.K. garage beats… it’s Christmas remixed.
BC: I love that. I’m so passionate that the work that we create doesn’t talk down to our audiences. This musical has a big, bold sound, like no family show I have ever heard. I truly think that it’s got something for everyone! It’s a Christmas feast.
What do you hope audiences take away from the production?
EI: I hope they leave with an urge to find and embrace the things about themselves that make them different and unique!
BC: That’s it. Our individuality is our superpower! We want our young audiences to get excited about the world. Their place in it. We want to create a troupe of Light Princes and Princesses passionate about changing things. And adults who are brave enough to listen to them. To help make it all happen.
What’s next for you?
EI: I’m working on my personal Artist project, BYFYN, finishing off the production on a new single, out march next year. And then on to a fascinating show called “Divine Noise” that poses the question- what if tinnitus was actually a divine ability bestowed upon a chosen few to listen in on otherworldly utterances…
BC: A week after The Light Princess opens, I open another new musical for families called The Littlest Yak. Its based on the award winning book by Lu Fraser and Kate Hindley and plays at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury this Christmas. Londoners can catch it at The Polka, Jacksons Lane, artsdepot and the Half Moon in the new year.
The Light Princess runs 2 – 24 December 2023 at The Albany in Deptford. For more info see: https://www.thealbany.org.uk/shows/the-light-princess/