We had the chance to talk to Mark Palmer and Phillip McMahon ahead of the opening of their new musical ‘I’m your Man’ at the Dublin Theatre Festival (24th to 3rd Oct). There are still a few tickets left (I believe) so get clicking if you want to see what all the fuss is about.
“A gutsy love story that keeps you moving forwards when you think you’re falling backwards, I’m Your Man is a musical journey from death to new life – a roadmap back from rock bottom.”
Q. There was a preview of this show at last year’s Dublin Theatre Festival, which gave people a hint of what to expect, has the structure of the play changed much since that?
Mark: Well there are twelve songs now, as opposed to five, and there’s an increase in the amount of spoken text too. The story itself now centres on a composer named Matthew, a man who is undergoing a psychological crisis but is ultimately rescued and transformed by a deep experience of love. Additional performers/musicians have been added to the cast as well and there’s a lot more expressive, physical movement. The choreographer Philip Connaughton was in with us during rehearsals in The Lir, and an extra layer to the performance erupted from that.
Phillip: Lots of what happened on stage during the development piece has made it into the final show, but there’s an understanding with those showings that the audience are watching a collection of ideas. There’s no pressure for anything to feel finished or fully realised. We’ve spent the last year growing those ideas and working the material into a kick-ass show.
Q. Is this production more about the songs or the story?
Mark: The story and the songs are massively intertwined. It’s not an either/or situation as I see it. If you did look at them as being separate, then the story is helped by the songs and the songs by the story. In other words, they support and amplify one another – they mirror one another whilst they egg each other on. But I like to think of the whole production as being a unit, that is, a big song which tells a story and, equally, a big story which sings a song. What did become clear as we developed the show, especially over the last year, is that we have been guided by the logic of feeling…for want of a better term. We found ourselves being moved by the emotional core of the songs and that limbic resonance subsequently prompted us to tell the story on its own terms…through words, through voice and through movement – regardless of how odd or surreal it appeared to our rational minds.
Phillip: No element of the show trumps another, but the songs will stay with you for a long time.
Q. What will be the musical arrangement on stage?
Mark: We will have two stage pianos, a drum kit, an electric bass, two semi-acoustics guitars and an electric guitar. The six performers will all have vocal mics. There will be full band moments as well as stripped-back vocal-heavy songs. There will be lots and lots of beautiful harmonies. I have been so amazed at the vocal deliveries by the performers – Ruth McGill, Adam Matthews, Alma Kelliher, Bronwyn Murphy-White and Bryan O’Connell. They have all been totally amazing.
Q. Mark, you have played live as part of a band on many occasions, how is it different when performing as part of a theatre production? Does the audience react in a different way?
Mark: Well my background is in indie rock gigs. So I definitely think there is a difference. The scale of the production is clearly bigger with this and the amount of people involved as well as the planning is considerably larger. I mean you’re not just turning up in a venue a couple of hours beforehand and plugging into your amps and doing a quick soundcheck with the three other people in your band. But does the audience differ? Well…yes and no. Like I said, I did a lot of indie rock gigs, so in that context it’s nighttime and your in a venue with a bar and chatting etc. All I can say, from my limited experience, is that there’s a certain stillness and attentiveness to a theatre audience. A certain focus. But you can get that too at gigs. It just depends on the type of music you’re going to see and if there are seats in the venue or not. I mean I remember attending gigs where you could hear a pin drop. But the opportunity for delivering a story and introducing movement, text and spoken word is definitely more manageable in a theatre context or venue. Subtleties are more important and get noticed I think. Also, rock bands often perform drunk or whilst drinking…but I’m pretty sure none of us will be on the sauce for the I’m Your Man shows!
Q. The musical is an art form that carries a lot of baggage. Many people say that they don’t like musicals. Do you think this production would change a few people’s minds? Can you make the younger generation interested in musicals?
Phillip: I think the younger generation are interested in musicals. Just look at the success of touring productions at the Grand Canal Theatre. They are playing to more people than any other genre in the city. We don’t have a tradition of creating musical theatre in Ireland, which seems odd given our passion for music and theatre, but I think that’s changing. In recent years, Rough Magic, Wayne Jordan and THISISPOPBABY (to name a few) have all been making credible and artful Irish musicals. Then Once and The Commitments came along giving the Irish musical an international context. I think those shows, their legions of fans and their many awards, have inspired Irish theatre artists to explore the genre more. As for people who say they don’t like musicals – they might just need a hug.
Q. Phillip, you’ve have had previous success with musicals with Alice In Funderland. Has that increased the interest in this production?
Phillip: This is a very different beast to Alice, with a vastly different approach and tone. But whether it’s at the THISISPOPBABY tent at Electric Picnics past, WERK at the Abbey or IMMA, or one of our many theatre productions – we always promise people a fantastic night out. Those who loved Alice will be smitten with I’m Your Man, just in a very different way.
Q. This is a short run in the Dublin Theatre Festival. Do you hope to bring it back at some stage?
Mark: God yes! I certainly hope so.
Phillip: This collection of voices and these incredible songs deserve to be heard again and again.
Q. What is your favourite musical?
Mark: Ha! I want to say Labyrinth…the Jim Henson masterpiece with David Bowie and Jennifer Connolly. Does that count as a musical? It does in my book. I love it to death!
Phillip: Gah. This is hard. It’s all about association, isn’t it? When I watch Grease 2, I’m transported back to being a child and watching it on repeat, knowing every line.
Are the songs any good? The internet doesn’t think so – but I love it. Maybe favourite song from a musical is better, because you can admire the form in all its glory in a bit sized chunk. So, I heart: ‘As Long As He Needs Me’ (Oliver), ‘Skid Row’ (Little Shop Of Horrors), ‘Being Alive’ (Company), ‘Touch Me’ (Spring Awakening), ‘I’ll Cover You’ (RENT), ‘Gold’ (Once). They are a few that I come back to again and again. Usually when drunk, using a hairbrush as a microphone.
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