A Winter’s Tale is entirely ensemble-driven and therefore excitingly utterly reliant upon us, the actors/theatre-makers to conjure, create and transform. We’re getting back to our craft. One of my roles in the production is to write, compose and direct the music for our cast of four. I started by mapping out different motifs, themes and instrumental sounds that trace and underpin the story, helping us to connect its recurring themes. It’s all happened quite organically and collaboratively, but I thought I’d try and articulate something about my influences, and inspirations for writing the music (hopefully without giving too much away).
Some of the influences for the music were already in the play. I wanted the music to be passionate and surprising but also to feel as though it is a part of the language as opposed to sitting alongside it.Therefore I found many influences in Shakespeare’s language itself. We devised rhythms based on the rhythms of the language, from its percussive words to the more lyrical text, and created contrasting sound-worlds for the scenes’ atmospheres. A few themes and key ideas that we started with that you might hear in the music are: Celebration and Joy, Age and Youth, Winter and Spring, Infection and Obsession, an oppressive police state and a rural landscape. The sound worlds I started to play with started with Punk vs Folk, Acoustic Sound vs Recorded Sound, and sea-shanties, lullabies and bawdy folk numbers.
Because the play has so much variety, it is important that each piece of music contrasts strongly with the others, whilst being tied or unified together in some way. We started to look at the Autolycuns – the characters who tell the story. I started to think of them as a band which would jump between roles and voices, creating a playful, eclectic palette of sounds and connecting the intentional contrasts they create by moving from crude, boisterous vamping to powerful silences, layered vocal harmonies, and chordal progressions on mandolin or guitar.
For example, the play begins with an infectiously obsessed king torturing himself and generating a fearful police state. Here the band immerses him in a punky progressive repetition, vamping through and around his speech. The musicians mirror his torment with violent sudden vocals and harsh breaths : his mind amplified metaphorically and literally. The song is inspired by his language, which I used to devise our percussion, drones and the main themes of this song. Later, we create a joyful feast on a summer’s dayon a rural hillside with “Heys!” and “Ho’s” (and lots of perfect cadences!). Something slightly catchier for the audience to sing along to.
All in all, we’ve borrowed from choristers, punks, morris dancers and military bands. And we’ve created the music using guitars, a dictaphone, cutlery, kazoos and a broken spatula. And when the band comes together to sing and play together some of the most memorable and touching moments in the play are brought to life. Do come along, listen, sing and stomp for yourself.
Sarah Louise Davies
Some musical influences for the piece are…