Tell us about how you came to write this show - would you say that Just So was your big break?
JUST SO was the second musical George and I wrote together. Our first show, TUTANKHAMUN, was more of a through-sung epic and we wanted to try something a bit more larky and comedic as a follow-up. The idea came from us reading another Rudyard Kipling story, Rikki Tikki Tavi, to George's young niece and nephew, which led to us re-examining some of our favourite childhood tales. Little did we know that stringing five unrelated Just So Stories stories together was going to prove such a challenge!
It was our big break in that it won the first ever Vivian Ellis Prize in April 1985 - the judges for which included Cameron Mackintosh, Andrew Lloyd-Webber, Tim Rice, Don Black, Mike Batt, David Heneker and Vivian himself, so it was a wonderful springboard for us and was the start of our 25 year friendship and collaboration with Cameron. JUST SO went through many incarnations (Barbican Theatre, Plymouth 1985; Watermill Theatre Newbury 1989; Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn 1990; Goodspeed Opera House, Connecticut 1998) with a great deal of rewriting in between times.
I then directed it myself in 2001, with Stephen Mear choreographing and Peter McKintosh designing, at the North Shore Music Theatre in Massachussetts and we finally felt we had got the show right. I recreated that production at both Arts Ed School in Chiswick (2003) and the Chichester Festival Theatre (2004). We were blessed in that, with Cameron co-producing the various productions, we were introduced to some great collaborators over the years including Julia McKenzie, Mike Ockrent, Anthony Van Laast, and Steven Spielberg! All of whom helped us to shape the show during its genesis - the result is probably more larky and eclectic than we ever imagined it would be back in 1985.
Have you made any revisions for this production at the Tabard?
I've had some conversations with the director, Andrew Keates, with regard to how to approach the show and with suggestions about doubling up roles so that a slightly smaller cast could perform it, but other than that nothing has changed since the show was published and released in 2004. I know George has also been in touch with Andrew and with the Musical Director at The Tabard about reducing the band size whilst retaining the essence of the orchestrations.
Which is your favourite collaboration so far?
That's a tough one - I've enjoyed all of them for different reasons. MARY POPPINS was great in that it was such a huge show to be working on and to share the billing with Julian Fellowes and The Sherman Brothers (heroes of ours) was rather thrilling.
I suppose we always love the latest show we are working on because it seems new and fresh, and we have again been blessed to have been working with some great collaborators on our latest two shows, BETTY BLUE EYES, with bookwriters Ron Cowen and Dan Lipman; and SOAPDISH with bookwriter Robert Harling. Different collaborators bring a different dynamic to the writing process and George and I love that part of the teamwork. We are delighted to announce that BETTY BLUE EYES opens for previews at the Novello Theatre on March 2011 starring Sarah Lancashire and Reece Shearsmith, with Richard Eyre directing, Stephen Mear choreographing, Tim Hatley designing and Cameron Mackintosh producing.