IN THESE WALLS
a new musical by Zara Nunn
directed by Martin Constantine
On one corner of one street in one family run establishment there’s two hours to go. But the people are not going to go quietly. There’s a totaliser up. There’s a display board of lots of photos. There’s been a campaign. Everyone’s worn out. It’s the last hurrah. Two hours to go. There are diggers outside, but this colourful bunch of protesters stage a final sit-in in the hopes of reversing the local authority decision to demolish The Butterfly Café in order to make way for a high-speed rail-link.
There’s the family who run The Butterfly. There’s a conflicted Local Councillor, who also happens to be a resident. There’s an elderly pensioner who’s lived in the area for the whole 90 years of her life and many others…
And there’s someone, who arrives, right at the last minute, from out of town, who wants to lend a hand. Not everything is as it seems though; not everybody is being totally honest about which side of the argument they’re on. And then The Butterfly itself starts to tell us some things…
IN THESE WALLS is an immersive*, real-time, three-hander performed in multi-role with an eclectic score and an onstage band of up to four people. As the story unfolds, not everything is as it seems and some of the people we meet, we start to discover, are actually from different periods in time, and are connected to many of the previous incarnations of the building – it might have been a 1600’s, a barbershop, a 60’s jazz club, a hipster delicatessen and so on – places and periods in time that also have distinctive musical voices of their own. As the final deadline approaches, stories are uncovered, revelations are…revelated… and we experience (as customers in the cafe ourselves) the emotional effects that urban regeneration has on us all and how these effects ripple through time.
* The central intention is that this remains very flexible in terms of the way it can be staged. Obviously there’s the site-specific question and whilst that is a future possibility, we envisage the first incarnation of it in more of a traditional theatrical space as it would work in many types and size of venue from a studio show, up to rep, as long as parts of the audience can be accommodated on stage ‘inside the café’ as well as in an auditorium.
ARTS COUNCIL FUNDING AND A PANDEMIC
In February 2020 I was awarded an ACE project grant for a three-stage project that would have firstly incorporated BEAM, and secondly a writing period followed by a short R&D working with the first half of the first act.
The third stage was my return live gig at The Crazy Coqs, Brasserie Zedel which was due to take place in May 2020. The new music produced during/for the R&D was intended to appear as part of the fuller programme of my work on show at Zedel’s, thus giving potential partners (whom I may have connected with at BEAM) access to more of the show than my initial ten-minute BEAM pitch will have allowed for, as well as given them the opportunity to experience it being premiered to a live paying audience.
Like everyone else, I’ve had to drastically rethink this plan as all three stages of my project are now postponed for the foreseeable future.
At the moment, the hope is that I will be able to repurpose more of my ACE grant than was originally intended towards commission fees which would therefore allow me to write more of the first draft than I was going to.
The original thinking around working on a small part of the piece was the focus towards garnering producer /partner and/or venue interest and full-commission or development support early on. Since that’s something that’s way more likely to happen with a piece in its early stages, we wanted to give it as much potential in that area as possible.
However, if we are able to, we will now be moving towards me writing more or all of the first draft so that later in the year, circumstances permitting, we can undertake a much more substantial period of R&D, hopefully with the inclusion of an industry sharing.
As with all plans at the moment though, this idea has to remain in flux for now, and I will update when I can.
Aside from any general interest you might have in this piece, which I’d love to hear, for now the main thing I would ask is that if anyone thinks they might be in the position to offer us some support in terms of rehearsal space, time and soforth, redeemable as and when it can be, then please let us know.
I’ve been interested in the impacts of urban regeneration for a long time. As I passed my 21 and a half year mark as a Londoner, I found myself retracing lots of steps, old haunts and places that meant something or which had connections to my own personal story and was suprised to find that whenever a building/site/route through town had gone, changed, been rennovated or was different, I really felt a palpable sense of loss in terms of my identity and the symbolism of what all those places had meant to me throughout my own evolution.
As a musician, I was distraught to read of the demolition that was to befall parts of Denmark Street in the wake of Crossrail and I started to research other stories of where capitalism, commerce and industry seemed to bulldoze its way through communites often leaving them with an irreperable sense of loss.
Quotes from my research:
Sometimes entire blocks have been flattened, sometimes fronts have been allowed to remain, propped up by girders and awaiting incoming flats or boutiques, the old facades acting like a kind of wallpaper for shiny new interiors. The usual vocabulary of planning seems insufficient. This isn’t regeneration, it is devastation; buildings aren’t being developed, they are being demolished and something alien raised in their place.
The developers argue they are bringing in money and cleaning it up, but the atmosphere and environment is being killed.
Unprotected entirely are the Korean cafes. The redevelopment has already seen them off. The campaign began too late to save them.
Crossrail has been culturally devastating,” says artist Cathy Ward, a local resident. “Those streets around St Giles felt like the deep veins of the city, those connecting historical veins that we’ve had for centuries. It’s extraordinary that they survived but now they are being erased, these places that hung on and housed extraordinary little businesses. We had no idea developers would be able to buy up a chunk of land and do whatever they want with it.
Attempts had been made to subdue St Giles before, when it was one of the most notorious of the slums known as rookeries. The Irish poor here were immortalised by Dickens; Hogarth’s famous satirical illustration Gin Lane depicts the squalor of the St Giles poor’s addiction to the spirit. Roads were driven through here in the 19th century but an outlaw air remained, even when Centre Point was plonked on top in the 1960s, like a wind-channelling watchtower.
Although my research has initially focussed on stories from London, this is a universal problem and as such IN THESE WALLS will be set in a fictional city that could be anywhere.
In 2018 for my inaugural Zedel’s concert, one of the four world premieres I wrote for the event was called THE DELI. Whilst it was only ever meant to be a stand-alone song, the story of it massively contributed to my growing interest in this whole subject; how buildings can mean something to us – especially if it was where you met your best friend, or future spouse, and they lose their life in some way…
I then decided to expand up the themes of THE DELI, and started to explore the ideas and structure for IN THESE WALLS. And I’m excited that it happened that way. At the moment, THE DELI doesn’t appear in the story arc (which is still in its preliminary planning stage) until much later in ACT 2.
It’s sung by a character called Daniel. Well, he’s called Daniel for now, but he might not end up having a name.
When stories are erased, people become anonymous, right?
Anyway. Daniel’s been away. More specifically, Daniel moved away. It’s been a very long while since he’s been in this neck of the woods Years…Place looks very different from when he was last here. But he heard, on some grapevine or other, what was happening, and although he ummed and aahed about it, took a while to decide (which is why he’s so late), eventually he thought, well, he thought he should come.
Like I said, place looks veeery different from when he was last here…No cold meat counter, no artisan coffee, no ciabattas on slates. But still, doesn’t take much…
So this is THE DELI, performed here by Simon Willmont.