Tim Firth is a writer, producer and composer, famous for his TV work and captivating West End shows. His play Calendar Girls, adapted from his own film, was a huge hit with audiences across the UK during its 2008/09 tour, and in the process broke the all time British box office record for a play.
His new musical, The Band, has now been produced by David Pugh Dafydd Rogers, Gary Barlow, Howard Donald, Mark Owen, and Robbie Williams. Featuring the music of Take That, the new production follows a group of friends, now 40-something women, as they try once more to fulfil their dream of meeting their boy band heroes.
1. You’ve been writing from a young age – Is there anything you’d like to see more of in schools to encourage kids to write?
Yes. I’d like someone to drive a large stake through the heart of a national curriculum whose aim seems purely to be to calibrate school league tables rather than draw natural talent out of children. There. You did ask. I now climb down off my soap box.
2. Where do you even start when you sit down to write a new production? Can you talk us through your process?
One idea. Any script starts from a single thought. In this case – ‘what if the boys in the story didn’t say a word of dialogue?’ That one simple thought unlocked the whole story that would become The Band because it threw the emphasis away from the group and onto the audience, and from there on to the effect of music on us all, not just those who are fans of a specific group. From that point on, each practical part of the process is different. In this case I wrote a prose version of a story, and, knowing the catalogue of the band as I do (having been a longstanding mate of Gary) I felt the songs announce themselves in my head at points in the story. That’s always the best way, whether those songs are original as in Calendar Girls, or pre-existing. A song has to want to be in a story. You cannot prod them in against their will as they will then always stand proud and feel awkward.
3.The Band features chart topping hits from Take That – do you think the concept of the show could have been applied to any 90’s boy band?
In principle yes, but in practice no. I told the boys early on that the idea of the show was such that you could in theory remove the TT songs and slot in those of another performer, because the emphasis is on the power of song rather than the power of a particular band. What makes TT different of course is that they have a long and varied songbook over the years, thanks to their reformation, and that is something that other boybands don’t have. There are of course other artists who do, and it is not inconceivable that the musical could have worked with the songs of some other group.
4.The talent show Let It Shine played a key part in the casting of the production. Apart from the added exposure for the show, what were the benefits of auditioning for the boy band in this way?
On the plus side, it found us an amazing group of lads who have stepped up to the challenge of performing in a show where they hardly leave the stage for 8 shows a week. On the down side the BBC could never let us say exactly what the show WAS for fear of compliance issues so it remained for legal reasons a bit of a mystery. But then…in a sense the reason the show is having the effect it is having I think is partly due to the surprise that audiences experience on finding the show is not a biography, but actually about them. So maybe that down side is actually and upside too.
5. Gary Barlow once said that he was told “don’t do a musical, it’s a nightmare”, following it up by saying that you make the process effortless. What is it that you enjoy about writing for the stage?
I think stage allows you more freedom. In a movie script when I write a stage direction like ‘ they dance on the wing of a plane’ three people on the production team faint with fear. When I write it in a play script, someone says ‘I know how we could do that with some chipboard and dry ice.’ Good actors and the audience’s imagination are your best armoury. Also, if you go to the back of the stalls on any night of The Band – which is where I always tend to stand – and watch the show, then you won’t need to ask that question. The thrill of a load of people being in one place at the same time reacting to the same story in the same way is an elemental joy that you cannot achieve in any other arena. Not even in a cinema.
And just for fun…
6. If you had intro music, what song would it be? Why?
Bring Me Sunshine. Because it does.
7. If you had to play the role of one of your own shows yourself, which one would you choose and why?
I would be the narrator in THE FLINT STREET NATIVITY – or as it was performed in Edinburgh THE CORSTORPHINE ROAD NATIVITY. He was called Tim, and the only character I’ve ever slightly based on myself. I think I’d stand a chance with him.
8. What is something that really annoys you but doesn’t bother most people?
Misuse of the apostrophe ‘s’. Most recent examples: ‘We serve Breakfast’s, Tea’s and Lunche’s.’
9. If your mind was an island, what would it look like?
Iceland. Largely barren with occasional hot spurts.
10. What long shot have you taken that really paid off?
Not taking a solid job a United Dairies in Runcorn and writing jingles for Radio Piccadilly instead.
Interested in seeing Tim’s new musical The Band? The show will be at The Edinburgh Playhouse from 10th – 14th July. You can buy tickets here.
Twitter – @TheBandMusical
Instagram – BandMusical
Facebook – /TheBandMusical
Love reading our interviews with theatre professionals? Check out our 5 minutes with Emma Williams – Paula Pokrifki in An Officer and a Gentleman.