HAVING chalked up five Bafta nominations and had his music played in cinemas, living rooms and concert halls across Britain and the US, Murray Gold is not short of work but he’s certainly short of time.
Yet when balletLORENT’s artistic director Liv Lorent asked him to compose the music for Snow White, her latest dance show for families, he immediately found space in his diary. The BBC was knocking at Gold’s door, looking for the next Doctor Who score (he has been the sole composer on the TV show since its revival in 2005) but the prospect of reassembling the creative team behind 2012’s Rapunzel was too good to miss.
“I’ve done so many types of work involving music, and working with balletLORENT is one of the best,” says Gold. “It was hard to fit into my schedule, because it was around a season of Doctor Who, right at peak delivery time. But I’m not going to whinge, it was brilliant, I just loved doing it.”
Gold is not alone in his love of Lorent’s vision. Also returning for a second time are Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, set designer Phil Eddolls and lighting designer Malcolm Rippeth. Together with costume designer Libby Everall, they have created the latest instalment in Lorent’s fairytale trilogy.
“It’s a bit of a cliché to say it’s a dream team,” says Gold, “but from my point of view, in a very practical way, it’s a bit like a family. The first time you work with anybody, you never know quite what to expect or how the relationship will work out. So the real joy comes when you do it a second time, because then you can look forward to it.
“I suppose there was a slight worry about whether it would take shape in the same way, but they are such a fantastic group, so there was never any hesitation on my part.”
Those familiar with Lorent’s fascinating and rich choreographic style will not be surprised to learn that her Snow White bears no relation to the Disney film. Instead, she has gone back to the Brothers Grimm original, in which the mother – not the stepmother – banishes her child from the kingdom and then attempts to poison her.
The seven dwarfs have been replaced by miners, who dig beneath the palace, unearthing a constant supply of oils and minerals to keep the building warm and the Queen beautiful.
“The first thing in existence was Carol Ann’s interpretation of the fairytale,” says Gold. “Then Liv imagined what the scenes would look like and handed that over. So all I had to do was follow her imagination.”
Gold’s background in film and television has given Snow White’s score a lush, cinematic quality. Born in Portsmouth but based in America, the composer is known for his ability to create excitement, fun and emotional depth with his music – all of which he has poured into Lorent’s production.
The scenes at the palace have a beauty and charm reminiscent of Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores. Then, when the miners appear, it’s as if we’ve journeyed to Eastern Europe, with a jazz-tinged gypsy feel that’s energetic and wild.
“I’ve written an awful lot of music in my career, in a very concentrated time span,” says Gold. “But I’ve never seen myself as a jobbing composer – I see myself as somebody who does what they love. I absorb music and the more I live the more I absorb.
“Liv would never call her work ballet, even though she named her company balletLORENT, but every now and then I did try to put a tiny nod to something from the ballet canon. And with the Eastern European stuff, the music from that area has a Jewish influence which is quite familiar to me. I just wanted something upbeat and folky for the miners to express joy.”
Having read Duffy’s adaptation, seen Eddolls’ designs and listened to Lorent’s overall concept, Gold went away to write his score. During trips to the UK, he would travel to balletLORENT’s Newcastle base for the occasional week of rehearsals. Aware that the show is aimed at a family audience, where attention spans can drift if presented with the same sound for too long, he crafted a dynamic score that regularly changes pace, genre and emotional intent. During run-throughs before opening night, Gold checked his inner child to see if it was bored.
“You try to monitor your own restlessness,” he says. “Because you don’t ever want to be boring – that’s the worst thing you can be in theatre. I guess in adult theatre you can go for something a bit slower, but even then I wouldn’t take it for granted. And with children, that restlessness, as soon as you detect any of that inside you while you’re watching, then you’ve got to give them something else.”
Gold also had a pool of real youngsters to draw on during rehearsals. At each stop on the Snow White tour, a different set of children will take on the role of townspeople, dancing alongside the company members. At the end of one rehearsal, Gold grabbed the chance to ask their opinion on a dilemma the adults were struggling to agree on.
“I did a little vote, to decide which piece of music to use for the wedding in the final scene,” says Gold. “All the young performers were about to go home, and I said, ‘Wait a second – which of these two bits of music do you think we should use at the end?’ They all voted for the same piece, and when I asked them why, they said ‘because it’s funnier’.
“Which is great – I love the fact they think of music as funny. Because with a score like this, you want to bring children into the story. So everything about the music is designed to pull you in and say come in, you’re welcome, please enjoy.”
• balletLORENT’s Snow White, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Friday and Saturday, then Pitlochry Theatre, 26-27 February, www.balletlorent.com