Lyric’s lyrical young music from Kate

MY STORY   The classically trained young musician Kate Marlais is to be the next Cameron Mackintosh resident composer at the Lyric Hammersmith

How did the residency come about, and what was the Musical Theatre Network’s role?

The residency is managed by Musical Theatre Network (MTN) and Mercury Musical Developments (MMD), and very generously funded by the Cameron Mackintosh Foundation. I’m always looking out for opportunities to write music for exciting people, places and things, so when MTN and MMD posted about the residency at the (super-cool) Lyric Theatre in July, I of course applied. As it was a residency, I knew that it’d be a role that could further and nurture my composing career as well. 

There were a few stages of application, including composing to brief as set by the Lyric, and a final interview in November. I was totally chuffed to find out I’d got it. I owe a lot to support networks like MTN and MMD - they are so crucial in helping to establish emerging voices in the arts.

You take up the appointment in March. What will it involve, how long is it for and how much of your time will it take?

I do! I’m excited. It’s an amazing opportunity to be musically involved in the range of work they do at the Lyric. It’ll include scoring music for plays, setting text to music, and developing my own musical theatre project; the exact timetable and projects that I’ll work on will be decided over the course of the year, but I expect to be based at the Lyric for a significant portion of 2018, depending on where my creative response is needed.

How much of your time will be spent working with children?

There’s so much going on for children at the Lyric, and I’m sure there’ll be musical projects or workshops for kids that I can work on. I love the high energy and whacky ideas that children can bring in to a room; I’m a big fan of that. I’m also going to be working with the Lyric Young Company - an ensemble of actors from 18-25 years old, led by director Anne-Louise Sarks - to create music for one of their shows. 

I grew up near the Lyric and saw loads of shows there as a kid which definitely formed my passion for the arts, and inspired me to get creative. I really admire the dedication that the Lyric has towards that.

Have you worked with the Lyric’s artistic director, Sean Holmes, before?

No I haven’t, but I’ve been following what Sean’s been doing at the Lyric - really exciting, progressive stuff - as a director and also as artistic director. Can’t wait to work with him.

You are classically trained, having studied at King’s College London and the Royal Academy of Music, but you will be working across musical genres. How difficult is it to do that?

Actually, that’s the thing I like doing most. I’ve always had a pretty eclectic taste in music -  the playlist on my phone is all over the shop. I try to absorb it all. It’s addictive - finding those hooks that reel you in, or moments where you can really hear the raw voice of that composer. What makes a piece of music appeal to me is essentially always the same, across any genre: it’s a connection. So, yeah, being able to tap in to lots of musical palettes is very handy, especially when composing for theatre where the imagination of it can take you anywhere, any time. There’ll always be a sense of classical discipline underpinning my music, but, more and more, I try to work on impulse and let my ear do the writing. It leads me to interesting, unusual places. 

Your award-winning work Here, written with Alex Young, is inspired by the Surrealist artist Kurt Schwitters. How did it come about?

We’d wanted to write something major together for ages, so we bounced some ideas around. We were each telling the other about an artist who had this incredible life story, and realised we were talking about the same person - Schwitters. He was a big character. As an artist, his main medium was collage, which immediately gave us a whole lot of dramatic and musical imagery. Our story is inspired by his final years as a German WW2 refugee living in Cumbria. We loved the idea of him being this out-of-place bohemian offset against a salt-of-the-earth Cumbrian farming community. It’s a cool musical language to explore too - folk, classical, with a dose of heady, distorted Weimar cabaret thrown in. We’ve actually taken the piece back into redevelopment this year to delve even deeper.

What can you say about your new musical with Alex, F**ked in Marrakech?

It’s a female-centric story about family - exploring generational divide, the confusing but fascinating current political climate, mental health - all set within the maze and haze of Marrakech. It’s funny, relevant and irreverent. We’ll be showing a bit of it at Theatre Royal Stratford East as part of BEAM:2018 in March.

You have worked with a variety of productions, from Frantic Assembly to the Royal Exchange. Is music in theatre changing?

I think it is. It feels like the lines are starting to blur, and definitive answers to that timely question “what is the difference between ‘musical theatre’ and ‘a play with music’?” are becoming harder to pin down. I’m all for not being confined to a category.

Frantic Assembly’s Fatherland at Manchester’s Royal Exchange was a perfect example of that. I worked on it, love it to bits, it has songs and text and movement, but can I define for you exactly what it is? No. And that’s great. When all creative elements work as one within a piece, you’re transported in to this complex, beautiful bubble. It then becomes an experience, not a genre, that you’re witnessing. Wow, I sound so art house right now. 

Have you got a project for the Lyric already?

At the moment I’m working on my own musical theatre project, exploring psychosis, self-image and the dream state. The music straddles synth pop, electronica and contemporary classical genres, and there’ll be integrated movement and design. I’m a very visual person, so I need to see everything there in my head before I start creating it fully. I’ll be developing it at the Lyric over the coming year, so let’s see what happens.

You are also an accomplished singer, having sung with the Bach Choir. Do you expect to continue with singing, or concentrate on creating musicals?


Oh I just love singing in choirs. It’s an amazing feeling. I sang the beautiful Passion works with the Bach Choir, and also used to sing with the National Youth Choir of Great Britain. I’ve been a performer - singer and actor - for over ten years, so it’s in my bones and I’ll of course do it again at some point. And maybe even in musicals I've written this space! But I’ve been itching to focus on creating music and musicals from the other side of the table, and to totally submerge myself in it. And now is the time to do just that.



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