Ashleigh Gray, best known for playing Elphaba in the UK tour of Wicked, and more recently for her appearance on the iconic programme Friday Night Is Music Night for BBC Radio 2, took five minutes out of her busy schedule to chat to director Jamie Jackson about new musical theatre and particularly her role in the upcoming showcase and album launch of MUTED which he is directing.
JJ: You’ve played some amazing roles in established shows, why is new musical theatre important to you?
AG: I guess because everything has to start somewhere! There had to have been a time when Boublil and Schonberg had jotted down a couple of ideas for musical numbers, after reading a book by Victor Hugo. They’d have invited people to come and try it out and now here we are, over 30 years later and Les Miserables is still one of the West End’s biggest shows! More so nowadays than ever before, you never know when the next ‘big thing’ is going to land – but if we never get them off the ground, then we’ll never know!
But more than that, I think, as creative person myself, that we owe it to our fellow creators, those who are brave enough to write and/or compose, to give them a voice. To indulge in and celebrate their visions and acknowledge their work as an artistic outlet. No one ever sits down and writes a new piece of Musical Theatre without being driven by their passion and love for it. I love celebrating people who are passionate about what they do and I’m very fortunate to have met and worked with some incredibly passionate people. When that dedication and excitement is supported by incredible talent and knowledge of their field, you can find yourself discovering the most incredible new pieces of Theatre. Supporting that and getting it out there is the least I can do.
Quite often the support isn’t there for these new pieces and more often than not, we get to the concept album in this country and no further. To have the opportunity to ‘put it on it’s feet’, as it were, is very special. Again, I commend those who put their work out there for the world to see. It’s very exciting to be part of a new venture.
JJ: Tell us about Muted – where did the show come from?
AG: Back in 2012, I was approached by Interval Productions and Tim Prottey- Jones to be involved in a production of a new show called ‘After The Turn’. I jumped at the opportunity as, coupled with my love of new writing, I’d been a fan of Tim’s albums, previously and then when I read the book, by Sarah Henley, I just knew I had to be involved. It was such a joy to work on, to be creating and developing this exciting new piece and with such a wonderful group of people. The reaction we received from our audiences was quite something. Not only was the music great but the story was clearly lifting off the page, reaching out and touching people. It had the makings of a very special piece and our initial run at the Courtyard Theatre was so well received that it was clear to me then, this wasn’t the end. And so, with some further development – here we have, Muted! A kickstarter campaign was created to make an album of this new and improved show, to get it out there and get the buzz going with a view to staging a full production in the future. It says a lot that original cast members, myself included, are returning without hesitation, to help get this show the recognition it so deserves. It’s no surprise that it has already been incredibly well supported and has almost reached the target! I for one, am really excited to be revisiting it and exploring all the developments.
JJ: And what’s your character like?
AG: What I love about Sarah Henley’s writing, is it’s realness. It’s truthful, raw, engaging; not only to read but to play – and characters don’t come more real than Amanda! There’s nothing more disappointing than watching a musical and seeing a two dimensional character. Amanda certainly has the added third – and then some. Here is a woman who has been so scarred by her own past and her own issues that, in an attempt to protect him, she is fast ruining the future of her own son, our protagonist, Michael. I talk about her in the present but actually, we meet her in flashback. Muted demonstrates some wonderful dramatic devices, Amanda being one them; to relay exactly why our present day characters find themselves in their current situation. She’s a complex soul, which is challenging but very fun to play. But with the fun comes a sense of responsibility, to honour the truth and vulnerability that Sarah has so beautiful written into this book.
JJ: And in your opinion, of all of Tim Prottey-Jones’s tracks, what’s the best song in the show?
AG: I absolutely adore the song ‘I’m Growing’. Not to give anything away – It comes at an incredibly poignant moment in the show. The beautiful, haunting melody along with the heartfelt lyrics by Tori, create that perfect emotional highlight for me. I can’t listen to it without shedding a tear. Good Music/Lyrics/Storytelling – that’s theatre at it’s best, no?!
JJ: And just in case people don’t know anything about this show, sum it up for us in a couple of sentences.
AG: This is ultimately a story of love – on every level. We find our characters each trapped in their own worlds by grief, guilt and by embarking on personal voyages of self discovery and forgiveness they attempt to find that happy ending. I’m not saying any more than that – you’ll have to come and see it for yourself!!
JJ: Finally why should people support this show on Kickstarter, or by coming to the showcase performance?
AG: Because I believe it’s a great new piece of Musical Theatre. It has the wonderful combination of fantastic, modern, pop-rock music with clever, engaging lyrics and a story with some classic, timeless themes coupled with a few edgy twists. I believe that it is a story for everyone, people will recognise parts of themselves in there, relate to it and maybe even be inspired and learn from it.
Muted is a new British pop rock musical, created and written by Sarah Henley, Tim Prottey-Jones and Tori Allen-Martin.
An earlier draft of Muted, entitled ‘After the Turn’, previewed at The Courtyard Theatre in 2012 with a sell-out run in which it was dubbed as “the British Rent” by Mark Shenton for The Stage, and “a beautiful unique production” by Backstage Pass. It also received Broadway World and What’s On Stage Award nominations for Best New Musical. It has since been re-written, re-titled and developed with a showcase at The Actors Church Covent Garden on 4th February, directed by aforementioned Jamie Jackson (Wink, Theatre 503), with Musical Direction by Simon Lambert (The Return of the Soldier, Jermyn Street Theatre)..
As well as Ashleigh Gray, the cast also features Liam Doyle (Sam Wheat- Ghost, International Tour), Andy Coxon (Beautiful, West End), Steven Webb (History Boys, The National), Tori Allen-Martin (Hair, European Tour) & Greg Oliver (27). With Liberty Buckland, Nikkola Burnhope and Laura Wickham on Backing Vocals.
An album featuring this cast has been funded by a successful Kickstarter Campaign which closes on Wednesday 20th January. Interval Productions are currently aiming to achieve their stretch target, you can support and receive unique rewards here – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1937765734/muted-the-album
Launch Address: Actor’s Church, Bedford St, London WC2E 9ED
Tickets: http://iristheatre.com/event/muted/ £12 and £10 concessions
Performances: 4th February 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Kickstarter Address: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1937765734/muted-the-album
Music and Lyrics: Tim Prottey-Jones and Tori Allen-Martin, Book: Sarah Henley
Cast: Liam Doyle, Tori Allen-Martin, Andy Coxon, Ashleigh Gray, Greg Oliver, Steven Webb, Liberty Buckland, Nikkola Burnhope and Laura Wickham.
Direction: Jamie Jackson
Musical Direction: Simon Lambert