Crabbit about the crunch

EARLIER this year, Edinburgh-based property tycoon Tim Hegarty lost a fortune when several subsidiaries of his family's company, WG Mitchell, were forced into administration.

In the face of such a crisis, most businessmen would either bury their heads in the sand or flee to some exotic bolthole and wait for the dust to settle. Hegarty, however, decided to channel his energy into writing and producing a musical, based on a children's book by his wife, Julie.

"I got a bit of a shock earlier on this year when the whole thing went pear-shaped," he says. "I thought, 'Crikey, I need an antidote to all the bad news,' so I started thinking about making a musical. Julie's book was sitting in front of me and I thought, 'There's a great story', and it just started from there."

The book in question was Michelle in Crabbit Comes to Stay, in which the residents of a magical rockpool, Michelle the scallop and her friends Hermie the hermit crab and Starfish, get an unwelcome visit from a grumpy crab called Crabbit. In common with many of Julie's books, the story carries a strong anti-bullying message.

"It's a fantastic tool for taking into schools and talking about bullying," Julie says. "Not many schools really talk to young children about bullying, so I've found that the response I've got from teachers and parents has been really great. Five and six-year-olds can actually be some of the worst; they can be really mean."

Julie and Tim worked together on the score for Crabbit! – Tim is no stranger to making music; before he "settled down and got a proper job" he worked as a professional songwriter, penning hits for Gloria Gaynor and D:Ream, among others.

"I'd wanted him to go back to the music for years," says Julie, "so when all this happened with the company, it was like, 'Oh, this is a great opportunity, let's do it.'"

"Originally I thought we'd just do some sort of thing for schools," says Tim. "But then I rang up the director Sarah Townsend, who's a friend from way back in Northern Ireland, and I told her what we were doing. She just said, 'Leave it with me.'

"About three days later she rang back and said, 'Right, that's the Gilded Balloon booked for the whole of the festival.' We were like, 'What do you mean?' She said, 'Yeah, I've got the costume designers from The Lion King, I've got people lined up to play all the parts…' She just ran with it and she did a great job."

Although Crabbit! The Musical is suitable for young children, the couple hopes that the music will appeal to people of all ages.

"I wanted to put together a series of songs that would work as an album," says Tim.

"Yeah, catchy pop tunes," says Julie. "Our youngest son, Henry – when he was three years old he was running around singing songs by The Killers, so I think children like pop songs, they get them."

In a video on the Crabbit website, there's footage of Tim singing a song that contains the line "this credit crunch it ain't no joke". Is there a credit crunch subtext to the show?

"I suppose there's maybe something in that," says Tim, "in the sense that the banks have been bullying people."

"I think the passion behind it and the anger that you felt – I think it's all in there, in the songs," adds Julie.

"At the end of the day, my family company went bust," says Tim. "It's a tragedy for people like my father who built up the company over years and years, and I'm very sorry for him. But for me, it's just one of those things that happens. Your life shouldn't revolve around how much money you make or how much money you lose. That's a very shallow way of looking at things.

"As for making this musical, what else could I do? If I sat and thought about what was happening to our family company of 50 years, I'd go mental; I'd get very, very angry.

"I still am angry. How much of that is in the musical? A little bit. Is Crabbit a bully? Yes. Are the banks bullies? Yes. They over-lent, we over-borrowed – but when the crunch came they had the power to take that back, and they are now taking that back to protect their position. That's a form of bullying as far as I'm concerned."

&#149 Crabbit! The Musical is at Gilded Balloon Teviot until 31 August, 12:15pm. To watch a short film about the making of the show, visit www.scotsman.com/artsblog