Ahead of the world premiere of our jukebox musical Love Letters, we spoke to writer and director Douglas Rintoul about his inspiration behind the show.
- Tell us a bit about the show.
Love Letters is a world premiere of a brand new jukebox musical especially written for the Queen’s Theatre. It’s about making mistakes in love and second chances. It’s shows how seemingly everyday lives are actually quite extraordinary.
- What’s the inspiration for the musical?
I grew up listening to music by Alison Moyet, Yazoo, Depeche Mode, Five Star, Billy Bragg and Blur – my first live gig was seeing Blur in my hometown, Colchester. I’ve always thought that there was a show in that music. I started to dig around for other music from Essex (I’m talking about geographical Essex and places where people self-identify as being from Essex), and I found loads. Generally, when we think of places associated with great pop music, Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester and Camden amongst others come to mind, not Essex. When I told people I was researching music from Essex for a musical, they said, ‘is there any’? Well, there is! Jessie J, Anne Marie, Olly Murs, Ian Dury, Alison Moyet, Depeche Mode, Imogen Heap, Blur, Billy Bragg, Billy Ocean, Sade, Sandie Shaw, Five Star, Pixie Lott, The Tremeloes, Jessie J, Anne Marie, Olly Murs too name but a few. Clearly, someone had a to bring these songs together for a great big musical theatre celebration of Essex.
- The musical is set in and around a pub at the heart of the local community. Why did you choose a pub setting?
Love Letters is an actor-musician musical – the actors play all of the music. To fully integrate the actor-musicianship into the narrative, I had to think of a place where you would find musicians, somewhere that has music at its heart, and an environment where you would meet everyday characters. Pubs ticked all of those boxes. Also, Pubs are full of stories: they’re places where different people come together, where stories are told and where significant events happen. Pubs are also a big story in themselves at the moment. They’re disappearing from our communities and are currently closed. Pubs felt like a ripe setting.
- Who’s your favourite Essex musician?
Alison Moyet. I’m always very moved by her music and voice. She’s also stridently proud of where she’s from (Blur weren’t nice about Essex back in the 90s). Alison Moyet has an album entitled Essex and has shot videos on Southend pier. What’s not to love?
- This is your first time writing a musical. What’s the process like?
It’s a Jukebox musical, so the music was the starting point; there’s something concrete to begin with – to take inspiration from. I trawled through back catalogues of lots of artists and looked for songs that were narrative-led and had something to say. Lots of the songs were about the complexity of love, and quite a few had a strong working-class sense of survival or rebellion about them. That mess and strength became a significant springboard for the narratives. I also came across an Essex news report about a bag of post that wasn’t delivered for 10 years. I wondered what could happen if one of those letters had been a really heartfelt love letter: what the impact of it being posted ten years on could be. Some of the music brings back childhood and teenage memories, inevitably some of that detail has made its way into the show.
- This show is the next step in the Theatre’s Essex On Stage programme. How does it build on the work we’ve already done?
We’ve revived seminal plays written about Essex that have been performed in national theatres but never in their native Essex, and we’ve commissioned brand new dramas. All have celebrated working-class narratives and Essex identity. I was looking for a musical that did that too. Something really accessible. We’d already done Made In Dagenham, and I wanted something contemporary, so it felt right to create something new.
- Why should audiences come and see the show?
It’s full of cracking music by Essex artists. It’s got a brilliant cast of actor-musicians that we know and love from our other hit shows. It tugs at the heartstrings, is funny and touching. You’ll recognise the characters. You get to spend a night in a pub (literally some audience members can sit on stage in the pub) which we’ll all need after the lockdown. You’ll come out warm and fuzzy, having spent time with great characters in a great place listening to great music. You’ll leave with a smile on your face as you rush home to Bluetooth some banging Essex tunes to your speakers.
Love Letters plays 25 September – 17 October