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When You Hear My Voice

The Tim Williams Awards
London Shakespeare Workout
Cochrane Theatre
(2011)

When You Hear My Voice production photo

The Tim Williams Awards celebrate musical theatre composition by conjoining existing words, often classical texts, with new music, thus creating original songs.

What's so theatrical about that? Well, generally, the text each composer is given wasn’t intended to be set to music and each piece comes assigned with a title, a dramatic scenario and a suggested musical style. A combination that makes for mischievous concept: 'free compositional reign, whilst wearing a contextual straightjacket'.

Creativity having got the better of constraint, musical theatre performers work their wonders and give their personal interpretation to the nascent work. Thus, just by way of example, the audience on Sunday evening was treated to Rebecca Lock singing the work Tolerance – The Angry Man by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Phyllis McGinley, set to music by Duncan Walsh Atkins, in a style suggested by the idea of Claude-Michel Schönberg and the French art of storming barricades, cradled within the dramatic scenario of "Anne Widdecombe’s revenge on a Fortnum and Mason onslaught".

Yes. Admittedly the dramatic or musical context of each piece is not always illuminating – "Louella Parsons celebrating celebrity supreme, and the art of rapid demise", is a mainly generational thing, whilst "Mixing Borodin with a dark touch of Jason Robert Brown on Parade" requires a musical knowledge that spans centuries and continents as well as a depth of imagination. But compère, LSW Executive Director Bruce Wall, relishes every challenging twist and could out–alliterate even The Good Old Days' Leonard Sachs. His effusive delivery of the elaborately adjectival introductions is now as much part of the entertainment as the songs.

When You Hear My Voice is the fourth Awards event, named after a composition by last year's winner Christopher Hamilton (who took a second Award for Best Composition with Burn based on Tennessee Williams' poem Life Story delivered by Dianne Pilkington). This year, in addition to presenting the title song and submitting three competitive song assignments, Hamilton also showcased two others' songs, thereby getting more than a fair share of exposure.

This year there were three competitive categories and Hamilton won himself a third Willie. He received The Audience Club Old Words New Theatre Song Award, for a piece titled Marching Matilda interpreted by Jos Slovick based on an existing song lyric by Scottish–born Aussie, Eric Bogle. I admit to feeling somewhat churlish because Hamilton is clearly a very gifted composer, but having a text which has been successfully set to music and covered by a number of artists already is – if inadvertently – providing an advantage where none is needed.

The inaugural Josephine Hart Poetry into Song Award was given to Lindsey Miller for a piece based on a G K Chesterton poem The Donkey interpreted by Peter Polycarpou, and the fourth Tim Williams Award for Composition went to Stuart Matthew Price. Price, currently appearing in Shrek the Musical, not only wrote both music and lyrics for Stories of Heroes but presented his work with Graham Bickley.

Whilst the judges finalised their thoughts the audience was treated to still more entertainment, including newcomer Tyrone Huntley singing Rage, an original composition by the first recipient of a Tim Williams Award for Composition, Alfie Granger-Howell with a lyric by a then serving prisoner, Peter Bradbury, an apt reminder of LSW's work within prison communities. Tim Williams' own compositional skills, which are memorialised by these awards, were on display courtesy of Huntley who also sang Miss Lucy, the lyric coming from a verse by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Where resources are limited and there can be only one winner in each category the runners up don’t get a mention. In deference to the judges (Mark Shenton and Phil Willmott amongst them), I openly admit theirs is a job I do not envy, but I cannot resist naming some names not picked by the panel

Whilst Price's Stories of Heroes was the most obviously attractive of the duets, the understatement of Stephan Hodel's composition (My Little One – lyric by Tennessee Williams interpretation by James Smoker and Alistair Barron) was a subtler piece, and Andy Macdonald's music for Wendy Cope's words (delivered by Rebekah Hinds and titled On British Awful) was a wittier example of the same.

A highlight was the always–impressive Laura Pitt-Pulford doing a stunning job of Sir with music by Gareth Peter Dicks who took inspiration from words by Ann Boleyn, showing what can be done if one has the courage to meddle with established texts. Not all the pieces were as absorbing but the tasks given to the composers (and thereby the performers) were very varied; almost without exception they rose to the challenge and in a display of significant skill provided an evening of entertainment and interest.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti