Lockdown interview – the composer: Lyndon Samuel

Welcome to another Lockdown Interview.

This time I caught up with the composer of musicals Cleopatra and Dawn of Silence, Lyndon Samuel, to find out about his career and how he has been finding theatre lockdown.

Cleopatra, which played as a one-off concert at The Actor’s Church in Covent Garden last year, was described by London Theatre Reviews as “an eternal story told through emotional songs and beautiful lyrics”.

Lockdown in theatres has now been in place for a few months. How have you been coping with it?

LS: Lockdown has hit everybody hard. People have been separated from their families, their partners, grandchildren. Things we took for granted like being able to get a haircut, buy new clothes have felt like a distant memory, while social distancing in shops has become second nature for many as we queue up to buy our essentials.

I think those who love theatre, whether they are part of the machine, or simply enjoy watching they are, have been especially hit hard. Many artists have felt abandoned by the government and their financial systems.

I’ve spent this entire time at my mum’s so I have managed. Thankfully, I have been able to use this time to carry on writing, and also enjoy the many concerts and shows that have been made available online. It’s not the same, but it’s something.

How did you decide to become a composer, and what was your career path into theatre?

LS: This is a rather long journey. Having studied music for my degree, I always enjoyed theory and analysis, as well as performing over composing. As well as studying the great on piano (Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt) I’ve always been able to listen to a song and play it.

So in my 20s I did a lot of accompaniment work, playing for singers (both classical and musical theatre), as well as MDing a couple of shows. But the idea of writing music has been in my head for a while. I make up melodies quickly, in my head and at the piano. So by my mid 30s I decided that this is what I definitely want to do, even though I had started sketching music all those years ago.

What would you say has been your greatest achievement?

LS: For me, this will always be the live performance of my musical Cleopatra (with book and lyrics by Robert Gould, directed by Brendan Matthew). We assembled a fantastic cast to perform a one night only concert performance at The Actor’s Church, Covent Garden.

The reviews were incredibly positive, and Bob and I have continued to tinker with bits. It’s such a well known story, and I’m especially proud of the score, which is lush, romantic and occasionally indulgent. It definitely deserves a large full scale production in the future.

What have you enjoyed watching or listening to the most from within the theatre community in the past few months?

LS: So many things. I have preferred to watch musicals over concert performances. I particularly have enjoyed the mix of what has been made available. Classic musicals on YouTube such as Cats, as well as newer pieces, my particular favourite being 8: A Steampunk Opera which was available on YouTube (and a cast album has recently been released).

Charli Eglinton is for sure one of my absolute favourite composers at the moment. Charli is able to blend really beautiful crafted melody lines with really interesting textures in the orchestration and accompaniment. I was lucky enough to see the workshop of Eight in person at the Other Palace last year.

Another composer who is not well known yet, but absolutely will be, is Filip Holacky. There have been some student performances of his work on his YouTube channel. He is so talented. I am quite envious, I must say. 

What have you missed most about the theatre space during this pause in physical production for a live audience?

LS: My favourite thing about theatre (if I’m working on a piece)  is the rehearsal period. And since I was about to have a show performed, the lockdown came just before we were meant to start rehearsals. 

The theatre industry is full of new companies, ideas, performance models, collaborations, and innovation. Do you think there is enough time, space, talent and funding to support the direction of travel or do you see a need for a complete rethink?

LS: There is definitely room. They are creatives are so innovative, and I feel like they’re is a real emergence of great ideas at the moment. The isolation of lockdown has forced the industry to rethink what can be done.

There are so many wonderful little theatres on the fringe of London… Waterloo East, Southwark Playhouse, Union Theatre, Ye Olde Rose and Crown are some of them (there are so many more great places) and they are perfect for new work.

However, funding is the issue. You ask anyone working in theatre, and they will tell you funding is the issue. Not only to get something up and running in the first place, but then to market the show to get an audience. That is as difficult as getting the piece up in the first place.

It’s a shame that there are not enough initiatives to actually get more work staged. All that Production and Adam Lenson run scratch nights, and these are so important to exposing new writers and demonstrate their craft and style, but loads of people are going to enter these things, or in some cases, these showings may be handpicked by a curator meaning that it’s hard to get involved. 

What has been your favourite theatre experience where you haven’t been directly involved?’

That’s so hard to choose, but in the past few years there have been a couple of performances that have stuck in my mind. Company (which was absolutely joyous) and Aspects of Love at Southwark Playhouse.

The great thing about some of the smaller London venues is their ability to put on shows that may not have had a production for years, and some of my recent favourites include Metropolis (Ye Olde Rose and Crown), Bad Girls (Upstairs at the Gatehouse), The Beautiful Game (Union) and Jerry Herman’s Showtune (also at the Union).

Looking forward to the “new normal”, what’s the next project for you?

Now I’m not sure. I’ve been rewriting Dawn of Silence (which had a workshop performance of Act One in Tristan Bates Theatre September 2019, book by Bernardo Alaya, lyrics by Paloma Herinckx, directed by Kevin Russell, produced by Alejandra Rojas), but also working on a brand new musical about a serial killer with Bob Gould, so maybe that could be one that gets shown next?

The Juniper Tree (which was meant to be shown at Waterloo East this year) may have a life elsewhere. Julia Sudzinsky, the extremely talented director and choreographer, is coming up with some new ideas about how this show could have a life, perhaps beyond a theatrical setting. 

Images of Lyndon and of the show Cleopatra courtesy of the interviewee.