How did it all start?
Lifting a new production from the page is a heady experience. Following our first original musical in 2000 (Chase Dark), Kaye T and myself felt completely shattered, but a good friend took us to one side on the last night. She offered us an opportunity to recuperate in their holiday home in Old Hunstanton - needless to say, we didn't hesitate and we're grateful for that kindness to this day.
With our families in tow, we headed straight to the beach for a long walk and that stingy, restless blast of sea air.
As we 'oohed' at the rugged coastline, bubbling with telltale excitement, our husbands sighed and rolled their eyes. Cloud was born on the spot.
Despite the fatigue, Kaye T and myself were still buzzing from show week and seeing creative ideas in everything. As we wandered along the stretch of beach at old Hunstanton, we admired the mass of huge rounded boulders set into the sand. Seaweed and algae grew on each skull-shaped rock, like strands of green hair combed by the drag of the tide. We started to give them names, wondering how many others had walked past doing the same, and soon we'd imagined a whole colony of giant trolls, that emerged from the sand at night. A musical for children we thought, that now sounds like a precursor to Shrek. Yet, on returning home, our ideas morphed into rather different plan.
After the first rush of adrenalin, an adult theme emerged. We wanted to capture the spirit of a pioneering colony, striving against the odds to survive, but contemporary in nature. The wildness of a beach setting still pushed us forward, but it was tricky to picture modern pioneering in Hunstanton. In fact, anywhere on our well-mapped Earth. As discovery now looks outwards, we moved galaxies.
We wondered, how many generations would it take for a distinct culture to evolve, away from all that's known on Earth? How long before the past fades into something mythical and new legends form? And what would happen if a traveller arrived to remind everyone of what had been lost?
In a huge scrapbook, The Book of Cloud began to take shape. Timelines, visonary settings, character sketches, inspirational cuttings and photos, hundreds of ideas jotted, curated and pieced together to create a sense of our new colony. And this was how the planet Cloud found life, with the Sand Tribes eeking out their living on a harsh strip of rugged coastline, the remnants of the human race clinging to a cliff face.
When our final survivor from Earth crashes into their midst, she has to adapt, but also becomes the catalyst for change. With the lilt of the sea ever present in the background, rousing worksongs from the colony, rivalries, lust and strong emotions, who wouldn't be tempted to explore? We were hooked and happily lived on Cloud for a good year.
For 16 years.
We diverted to smaller scope musicals, and somewhere far, far away, the Sand Tribes quietly worked and played until we were ready to rejoin them.
Eventually the time was right and the rocket launched. Along with talented choreographer Beth Williams, we saw our colony rise through 5 months of hard work, laughter and tears. An incredible group of people came together as cast, crew, designers and contributors, creating a new world within the walls of The Mill Theatre at Sharnbrook in 2017. Colony leaders, the Council, Rebels, Sirens and Sand Tribe families began to trade and barter, competing for status and love, telling their tales of glory and breaking new ground. Ultimately, they stood together as a community and sang their hearts out.
To this day, the band call is still one of the most exciting things I have ever experienced. Hearing Kaye T lead the band to bring her incredible score to life for the first time, listening to the characters we'd imagined (but that everyone had jointly created) and sensing the emotions run riot in that room, we all knew this special day was a unique experience. It's difficult to convey the electricity, but I'm so grateful I was there and to see the performances that ensued in the week ahead.
Truth be told, I still travel to Cloud occasionally. It's a nice place, despite the storms.
One day, the novel will follow, if only to give me an excuse to stay there for a while.