Natasha Hodgson and Zoe Roberts from SpitLip chat to Katerina Partolina Schwartz about working on their musical Operation Mincemeat and the process to get them all the way to the West End.
How does it feel to have a show on the West End?
Zoe Roberts (ZR): I feel like it hasn’t really sunk in yet.
Natasha Hodgson (NH): We’re so focused on trying to finish the show – that has been our focus for 5 years, just trying to make the show good. Actually, when you sit back and think about it, it’s a life dream come true for us, it’s an amazing feeling.
ZR: It sort of feels like nearing the top of Everest, but we’re looking very carefully down at the path to not twist an ankle, like, ‘’these rocks are a bit hard, aren’t they?’’
It’s just trying to sense check every so often.
Even nowadays we don’t see too many musical composers that are women. Why do you think this is?
NH: We don’t have as many role models for that, so as a young girl you think: “I can be in things” but you don’t think: ‘’I can write this!’’. We didn’t think we were going to write a musical when we first met, but we gradually put more and more songs into the shows we were making, that before we knew it, we were calling ourselves composers, even though that was never a job title either of us felt comfortable with. It’s very empowering, and very necessary, to think: “no we’ve earned this space, the title is correct.” It’ll be lovely for younger girls to come see this show, know our story and think, “yeah I can do that, I can write.”
ZR: Also, we’re not really instrumentalists. We’re not super confident reading or writing music. We’ve got only bits and bobs of that talent, and when we started out, we thought, “we know how to make words rhyme and we can count to four”. That’s where we started. And where we’ve got to now is a testament to being ambitious, and pushing ourselves. We didn’t think we had these skills in our toolbox, but 5 years later, we’re so confident in creating this kind of work, and we’ve learned as we’ve gone, and that’s been an incredible part of the process.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced as writers and composers?
ZR: What makes us special – we’ve had to stress that it works, that this is how we do it and this is a new route in the industry – we work collaboratively. We work as a four; we all write the music, we all write the lyrics, we all write the book. It’s very slow, very painstaking.
NH: Incredibly inefficient.
ZR: And you have a lot of arguments about the best word for … hat. But it’s been pushing through that, and understanding how musicals are made. It makes your characters sound like they’re doing a scene when they’re singing a song which is really important.
NH: When things are going well, what you want to say is: “we’ve done it, you can do it too! Whatever you dream, do what you want!”
And that’s technically true, that is what has happened. But it’s been an incredibly long, tiring, enjoyable but hard process. I think the challenge of just keep going with it – that alone has been very hard for us. So, we’re doing it because of how much we love it and how much we want to keep working together and believing in it, but it’s not an easy job to do.
You’re both acting in the musical. How has your role as an actor informed your role as a composer and vice versa?
ZR: In some ways, you get completely embedded in the character you’re playing, which really helps with the writing. It helps structure, it helps decision-making. You’ve got somebody in it to say: “nope, doesn’t really feel right for this person.” But then you’ve got to separate the person onstage who loves the applause, wants the attention. You’ve got to step away as a writer and think: “but the picture of the story, this character actually might not be important at this point.” So it’s a weird doublethink, that can be very helpful, as long as you can step away from it.
NH: Because we’ve written these parts, we can make sure they’re really good. Particularly for women in musical theatre, there’s not that many. In our story, both the main female leads of the show are playing men and we get to do all the fun stuff that usually male musical theatre comedy leads get to do, and show that women are just as capable of hosting the show, and being slapstick or ‘the clown’, as the boys are. And the idea that we can make these parts for funny women, who want to get onstage and have a song, but also be an idiot, a chauvinist or wear a suit. It’s been really joyful to create these roles and say: “see what girls are good at? Everything!”
You can watch Operation Mincemeat at Fortune Theatre, Monday – Saturday, until the 19th August, with performances at 3:30pm and 7:30pm. For tickets, click here.