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Interview with Alexander Wright, writer of 'Some Small Love Story'/'Beulah'

Published by: Sue Casson on 28th Feb 2013 | View all blogs by Sue Casson

As a double bill of new musical theatre, ‘Some Small Love Story’ (a four-handed boutique piece) and ‘Beulah’ (featuring original folk music and puppetry), billed as ‘the next generation of must-see musicals’, sets off on national tour, I caught up with writer, the Flanagan Collective’s Alexander Wright, for a quick chat.


SC       So what are you up to?


AW      The show consists of two new pieces of musical theatre. Often, when someone mentions a musical, you think of a quite glitzy, high spec show, with a big chorus, orchestra and dance routines, but these two shows are very much about the relationship between the people on stage and the people sitting with them, so there’s no set as such. In ‘Beulah’, everything is about the instruments that the two guys make all the music on, object manipulation and projections, while ‘Some Small Love Story’ is just four people standing on stage, talking to you. Nothing else. So they’re both very stripped back; not at all what you might expect from a traditional musical whatsoever. Both are very open, honest, accessible pieces. I’ve written both scripts and all of the lyrics, although all credit due to the original cast who helped to put everything in the right order! My editing process is quite lengthy. It can start with giving the actors and director a big, rambling thing and they, thankfully, far more intelligently that I could, pare it down in the right way.


Q. Are the two shows linked?


They were developed independently rather than as a double bill, but I watched them for the first time together at an open dress rehearsal two days before the tour started, and I thought ‘I hope these work together’. Rather stupidly, I hadn’t thought of that until that point but they seem to work together remarkably well. ‘Beulah’ is a very colourful, busy, and fanciful piece, while ‘Some Small Love Story’ is very still and very much about us and our real world. Both pieces are about the joy, beauty and love you can find in the world and how important other people are to us, but both articulate this in different ways. I guess they both have a similar, I guess clichéd, notion that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. So they’re two very different pieces, but they complement each other beautifully


SC       What does the musical element add to the show?


AW      The music for ‘Beulah’ was composed by Jim Harbourne, who’s in the show and Ed Wren. Ed’s on another tour at present, so Ryland Teifi, a multi-award-winning Welsh musician has joined our cast. Jim and Ryland play about twelve different instruments between them, all live, so there’s harmoniums, accordions, bazukis, guitars, whistles—you name it, we’ve probably got one. The music for ‘Some Small Love Story’ was composed by Gavin Whitworth, who’s a musical director and theatre composer. It’s stunning, with some very moving, soaring harmonies for the four-strong cast. The two shows have very different sounds but they’re both very deeply woven. Unlike in ‘Les Mis’, where the whole story is sung, the songs in these shows sit just sit within the narrative, adding a lot of texture and feeling.


SC       Have you used music in all of your productions?


AW      I think I’m just a frustrated band member really! If I could choose whether to be a playwright or be in a famous band, I’d choose the latter! If you listen to a song, it can move you in a moment, even if you’ve never heard it before. You might not know what they’re singing about, but music does something to you which is quite remarkable. I think that a well-written piece of music can do something that’s so much greater than any words I could ever write, so I find it a very important aspect of telling a story. I think we hear music far more in our lives than we listen to constructed narratives. I always have the radio or a CD on, but we don’t always have someone walking around with us reciting a script so I think it’s a really nice way to articulate a story and something we can easily connect with. I just like music really. It’s stunning.

Alexander Wright cr. Luke Thompson.jpg
Alexander Wright. Photo: Luke Thompson

SC       How did the team come together for the show?


AW      The show is produced by Hartshorn-Hook, who’re based in Manchester. I’ve got to know them quite well over the past few years. They do quite a lot of work at the Edinburgh Fringe, and in London and Manchester, and so our paths cross quite often. They came to see ‘Some Small Love Story’ in Edinburgh in 2011, loved it, and wanted to do more with it and for it to be seen by more people, so they really helped this project get off the ground. They secured funding, very kindly, from the Arts Council for ‘Some Small Love Story’, to take it to bigger audiences, so it’s been really nice to work with a new group of people. Due to circumstances, we needed to recast and change the team slightly so it’s exciting to work with Noreen Kershaw, a BAFTA-winning director, and for her to have her input into ‘Some Small Love Story’, and then to get Ryland in on ‘Beulah’ and modify some of the music to suit the instruments he can play. It’s really exciting to bring new people in to the stories. It helps you as a director/writer to re-understand what’s exciting about that story and why you wrote it in the first place. These are scripts that I wrote quite a while ago now and it’s exciting to have a new, fresh, set of eyes on them. You go, ‘Oh, yes I remember what this bit was or why I put that bit in’. It’s really exciting.


SC       Have you found anything particularly challenging about this project?


AW      I think that touring as an activity is quite challenging. The idea that every three days you up sticks, make friends with a new venue, figure out how they work, hopefully attract a new audience, try to have a conversation with ten different audiences around the country. It’s tough. A new experience for us. Neither Flanagan Collective nor Harsthorn-Hook have done a traditional tour in this sense, where you do Monday to Wednesday in one venue and then Thursday to Saturday in another. It’s a great learning curve and something that very valuable to do. How to make two shows and get them out on tour. Again, it’s how to be economical with it, so the practical side is very interesting and it’s great that the Arts Council can support our learning and development in that way.


SC       How have audiences been reacting to the show so far?


This is why Twitter is such a great invention! Cos I can listen to what people are saying in Manchester, when I’m not there. We’ve had an excellent response, and you forget, when you’re so attached to something, quite what it’s like to watch it for the first time. I went to see the shows in Hull the other day and remembered how much I loved them and what it would be like to go and see them for the first time and find yourself in the magical world of ‘Beulah’ and the heart-breaking world of ‘Some Small Love Story’. It’s been clear from listening to people’s responses that they find themselves lost in a place that they weren’t necessarily expecting to be on a Tuesday night when you’re in Hull and it’s snowy outside but you end up in a warm, loving story, so we’ve had really good responses. I’m looking forward to going to York because that’s where I’m based and where we spend a lot of time making stuff, so it’ll be really exciting to take the shows there. Then on Saturday 9th March, we’re at the Fauconberg Arms in Coxwold, a pub in the town where I grew up, so that all the local folk who I grew up with and my family can see the show. It’s great having such a diverse bunch of venues because you get a diverse audience with lots of different opinions, which is lovely.


SC       Do you have any future plans for these two shows?


AW      We’ve got a week at the Arts Theatre in London, which will be a great opportunity, hopefully, to get a lot of conversations started about the future of the shows, where they can go next and how we carry on this journey. We’re not over yet. We’ll carry on making new work, but I definitely think there’s more life in these shows. I’m also busy trying to wrestle a massive story down into a tellable tale for a piece called ‘Bablyon’, a romping, stomping folk party, that’ll be a nice jolly evening full of fantasy, drinking and singing, and I’m also writing a more delicate piece called ‘The Cloud People’ which will be mainly visual with lots of puppets. We’re starting some conversations with a great company called The River People about collaborating on some work, so there’s plenty going on.


SC       What kind of people inspire you as a writer/director?


AW      I get excited by people who lead you into a world, whether it’s a physical one, like when an entire warehouse is transformed so that you can run around in it for three hours, or an imaginative one, where someone quietly leads you into an imaginative place. There are performers who just stand on stage and introduce themselves, like Tim Crouch, but an hour later you’re lost in quite a wonderful story, believing something which is by no means in front of you but all in your imagination. There’re people who allow audiences into their pieces and the imaginative world of the narrative, which I find remarkable.


SC       Any final comments?


AW      I hope people will come and watch. We’re all still quite young and trying to figure out how to best make things work. In the Flanagan Collective particularly, we’re always up for a chat. People are very welcome to talk to us after the shows, or get in touch with us on Twitter or online or give me a ring. We want to know what people think, so we hope they’ll be involved in the conversation.


‘Some Small Love Story’ and ‘Beulah’ Tour Dates:


South Hill Park, Bracknell, 14 - 16 Feb

Slung Low’s The HUB, Leeds, 18 - 20 Feb

The Lowry Studio, Salford Quays, 21 - 23 Feb

The Fruit Space, Hull, 25 - 27 Feb

Summerhall, Edinburgh, 28 Feb - 2 March

York Theatre Royal, Cocktail Room, York, 5 - 7 March

Fauconberg Arms, Coxwolds, 9 March

The musicals will show independently at The Arts Theatre

Beulah only – The Arts Theatre, West End, 18 – 20 March

Some Small Love Story only - The Arts Theatre, West End, 21 – 23 March


Samples of the music are available at:


Some Small Love Story:



1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    Thanks, Sue. Quite enlightening to cover the birth of a show from concept to production like this.
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