Rob Hartmann interviews writer/composers ARNOUD BREITBARTH and CHRISTIAN CZORNYJ who he met on the Mountview MA course in writing musicals.
Now, just weeks after they’ve graduated, the writers’ new musical Catch Me will premiere at the Above the Arts Theatre. Catch Me tells the story of five friends coping with a young man’s suicide.
How did the idea for the show come to you?
Arnoud Breitbarth: We’re both quite passionate about mental health issues – breaking the stigmas around mental health. And it so happened that we both had suicides in our close circles.
Christian Czornyj: We wanted to tell a story about what happens after a suicide. How do people respond? What are the questions people struggle with? So we tried to put that in a musical – without being judgmental – and Catch Me is the result.
So the show is not all deadly serious?
AB: Absolutely. One of the most remarkable days I had was the funeral of my dad. Because we were with people we loved, and people who cared about my dad, the atmosphere was kind of warm and caring and fun. At a funeral, you can reflect on happy times, which is what the people in Catch Me are doing.
Since you’re both composer/lyricist/bookwriters, this is a different type of collaboration than you often see. What’s your writing process?
AB: We talk a lot before we start writing, and then we literally sit next to each other, either behind a laptop or behind a piano, arguing about every single word, about every comma, about every note.
CC: And we flip back and forth, where one person will suggest something, and the other person is like, “no, definitely not”, and then five minutes later we’ve swapped sides. I think our collaboration works well because we think in the same way. So even if we start at different ends of the path, we always meet in the same place.
AB: Chris is more from an electronic music background and I’m a little more pop. That blend gives a quite unexpected and unusual sound for musical theatre.
CC: It’s a character-driven piece, so the songs are all about the acting. When we were casting, we were really looking for actors who can sing, more than ‘musical theatre actors’.
AB: Our director is Jill Patterson, who is extremely passionate about mental health issues. She has a very clear view on why people on stage do certain things – that it’s often about what’s not being said. A lot of the work she does with the actors is about, what you are not saying?
CC: Sometimes musicals tend to over explain. And when we were working through the piece, sometimes we wondered, are we being too sparse?
AB: But with the actors we have, when they start to sing, everything falls into place. The emotions the actors put into their songs are so chilling sometimes, or incredibly funny, that I was almost surprised. I said to Chris, did we actually write this?
CC: There was a moment the other day when they were singing these quite rich harmonies, and it was just spinetingling and kind of lovely.
AB: Rebecca Grant is our musical director – she’s been working on a lot of new musicals. She puts a lot of effort into helping the cast feel comfortable with new material, really exploring the songs – because it’s the first time people have ever sung them.
CC: We’re going to have cello, piano and guitar; it’s all acoustic, so you’re going to get a kind of rawness to it that you don’t always get from some of the more overly-produced musicals.
AB: Chris and I are both piano based, so for an orchestrator, we’ve chosen Connor Gallagher, who is a guitarist. He brings another kind of sound to the orchestration.
CC: Part of what we’re hoping to achieve, especially the way it’s being directed, is that you really will feel that you’re not necessarily intruding, but definitely part of what’s going on. One reason I love theatre so much more than film and TV is that it isn’t just something happening on a screen in front of you. It draws you into the world. And being in such a great intimate space, you can’t help but be drawn in to these characters and this story.
AB: When people come to see the show, we hope that they’re touched, that they’re moved by the stories of real people that they see on stage.
One last question – what does the title mean?
AB: Catch Me is the feeling that, when your world falls apart, you’re hoping that someone catches you. You’re falling through the cracks, hoping there is someone that can catch you before you hit the ground.
CC: Or fall apart.
* Catch Me features: Neal Andrews, Connor Arnold, Reuben Beau Davies, Matthew Munden, Kathryn Pemberton and Jennifer Tilley. The production runs from 21 November to 3 December at Above the Arts Theatre, London.