Journey inside the Lady Beatle rehearsal room with co-writer Adam Brunes to find out what’s in store later this month…
First Adele, then Miley, now The Beatles; Little Red Company picks iconic artists to create stories and play with. What’s your usual process when creating one of your pop-culture cabaret works?
There are two main drivers for all of our works: music and research. Unpacking the ‘musical voice’ of each work is vital, so we’ll generally start by getting into a rehearsal room with the full band as early as possible simply to play and experiment with material. Naomi and I will bring to the table some initial musical ideas that we think could potentially work – be it to drive narrative development, character, or simply as entertainment – and the band is also very generous with sharing their own ideas. Because we’ve been working together for many years across multiple projects, the individual band members are very much our equal co-creators on the work. Musical reinterpretation is key; we always look to present known and loved material in a new light.
While the musical world is unfolding, Naomi and I will be poring over relevant source material: articles, videos, biographies, research papers, history books, fan sites, newspaper clippings, podcasts – you name it. Just last week Naomi express-shipped a graphic novel called “The Fifth Beatle” that we chanced upon online. Pearls of wisdom and inspiration come from the most curious places. One of the most exciting things about developing a brand new work is that the possibilities are limitless. We’ve lost count of the number of times we think we’ve landed on the idea, only to find another ‘golden thread’ that unravels something different completely. Our fundamental rule is that no options are off the table. Even if we land on something we’re confident might be it, we acknowledge that it’s an option rather than the only option. Of course there comes a time when you have to commit to one story arch and trust in the hours of research and experimentation that it’s the best option in that moment.
Why did you want to privilege the women in The Beatles songs?
The trademark of our pop culture cabarets to date is that they provide a vehicle for a strong, sole female voice. In our early research for the project, we were fascinated to learn the real stories behind the music and were introduced to so many real life women who inspired some of The Beatles’ most iconic songs. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, for example, was inspired by John Lennon’s son’s childhood best friend – a young girl called Lucy O’Donnell with whom Julian went to nursery school in Surrey in 1966. At five-years-old, Julian had drawn a picture of his classmate and took it home to John, explaining: “It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds.” On learning this, we wanted to know more about Lucy – who she was and where she ended up all these years later. Tragically, Lucy O’Donnell died of a Lupus-related illness in 2009, aged 46.
Similarly, The Beatles’ hit song She’s Leaving Home from the Sgt Pepper’s album was inspired by a real-life teenage runaway: 17-year-old Melanie Coe, who made the front page of the Daily Mirror after fleeing her family’s home as she’d fallen pregnant and feared retribution from her very conservative parents. Coe was found 10 days later, returned home and had an abortion. Coincidentally, Coe had actually met Paul McCartney three years earlier in 1963 when he chose her as the prize winner in a television dancing contest.
As we began to unpack all these fascinating true stories, we soon realised that there exists this incredible collection of seemingly ordinary real-life women who will forever be part of an extraordinary legacy. Filtering these iconic songs through their personal stories and lenses returned some surprising, exciting ideas.
What’s different about this work compared to your others?
Rumour Has It and Wrecking Ball were both written about the biggest name in music at that particular time: Adele and Miley Cyrus respectively. Lady Beatle, though, is inspired by the greatest music act of all time. The other significant difference with Lady Beatle is that Naomi doesn’t assume the persona of any of the Fab Four like she does in Rumour Has It and Wrecking Ball. Instead, our ‘Lady Beatle’ is someone we’ve dreamed up – an obsessive fan, a close ally perhaps, or maybe something different entirely.
You’re working with costume designer, Leigh Buchanan, on this work, what have the conversations been like in designing costumes for this piece?
We pride ourselves on working with creatives at the top of their game, and this is true of the full team – from our band through to our lighting, sound and costume designers. Our approach to design is perhaps a little unconventional, in that we really trust the talent and years of experience of our team to deliver the goods. As such, we give them suggested concepts and ideas, but allow them to come back to us with their own creations. With costuming for Lady Beatle, we’ve discussed 60s influences and clever Beatles-esque nods, plus a few surprises you’ll have to wait and see! We adore working with Leigh – he’s a creative genius and a gorgeous soul.
What do you hope audiences take away from Lady Beatle?
As with all of our shows, our main goal, quite simply, is to deliver a truly entertaining night at the theatre. We’re confident that Lady Beatle will be enjoyed at multiple levels. There are some audiences whose biggest joy will no doubt be the world-class musicianship, dazzling original arrangements and Naomi’s inimitable charisma and talent, whereas others will get swept up in the quirky tale of our ‘Lady Beatle’. Who is she? What brings her here? Why is hers a story we need to hear?
We’re excited and proud about the unexpected direction this work has taken throughout its development. It promises to be a show with great heart and charm, anchored by a brilliant team of artists and the greatest songbook of all time. Of course anyone who has been lucky to see Naomi Price perform live will know that they’re in for something special – she’s unquestionably one of Australia’s most captivating, versatile performers.
Lady Beatle premieres at La Boite Theatre Company 25 May 2017. Tickets on sale now.