In Good times and bad, crisis and disaster, people who love musicals and musical theatre never give up; they just carry on churning out tunes and re-watching old movies on the television, until the moment when the lights can go up again, and the show can go on. Last month, the organisers of Britain’s biennial BEAM showcase - designed to offer bite-sized previews of possible new musicals in development from all over the country - had to cancel the event at short notice; and among those who were robbed of their short but invaluable moment in the spotlight were Renfrewshire-based playwright Oliver Emanuel and composer Gareth Williams, who were scheduled to present a fragment of their current work-in-progress, a musical romance called A History Of Paper.
Both Emanuel and Williams are familiar figures on the Scottish arts scene. Emanuel is well-known for plays ranging from the spectacular young people’s show Dragon, seen at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2015, to disturbing radio dramas including The Truth About Hawaii, which imagined a future world with no working antibiotics. Williams - originally from Northern Ireland, and now composer in residence at Edinburgh College of Art - has been a composer in residence with Scottish Opera, and has written operas including Breath, based on the experience of cystic fibrosis patients in Gartnavel Hospital, and Rocking Horse Winner, a chamber opera adapted from a short story by DH Lawrence.
And between 2015 and 2018, as part of the 14-18 Now programme to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War, Emanuel and Williams worked together for the first time, collaborating with Perth Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland to create their massive 306 Trilogy, dedicated to the memory of the 306 British servicemen shot at dawn for cowardice or desertion during the First World War. The 306 Dawn, 306 Day, and 306 Dusk opened in theatres and spaces across Scotland between 2016 and 2018, and emerged as an impressive series of dramatic oratorios about the pain of war, and the struggle for justice for young men who seemed trapped for ever in one of history’s darkest moments.
A History Of Paper is set to be a more light-hearted work, set in 1999 on the eve of the new millennium, and featuring a couple whose lives are bound together by a particular, highly significant piece of paper. As the millennium approaches, they both have apocalyptic fears, not least of the millennium bug that was supposed - if action had not been taken - to bring planes crashing from the sky and throw computer systems into chaos, across the world. Towards the end of the show, though, the young woman at the heart of the story sings a gorgeous love-song of courage and reassurance that could hardly be more appropriate to the moment we are living through now. It’s called The End Of The World Is Not The End Of The World; and here it’s introduced by Oliver Emanuel, and performed by Gareth Williams at the keyboard in his home, and the brilliant young actress and singer Kirsty Findlay, at the microphone, in hers.