Composing As You Like It
This is the first in a series of blog posts by members of the CAST 2016 tour about what attracted them to CAST and their role on the tour. CAST is not for profit; members of our team are sponsored or pay to be a part of the tour. We are passionate about Shakespeare and using his works to educate and as a way of building relationships between communities that would not otherwise interact.
First up in this series of blog posts is Jamie Fenton, our musical director and composer, who explains his inspiration for the music in As You Like It. You can listen to his songs here: https://m.soundcloud.com/jjwfenton/blow-blow-thou-winter-wind-megan-gilbert-joe-pitts
Composing for As You Like It
The day I finished my last exam in high school, I took a train with two friends to Shakespeare’s home town to see an RSC production of As You Like It. I didn’t go because I was a massive fan of the play - I’d never seen or read it before - but because British singer-songwriter Laura Marling had written the score. At this point in my wild, unrestrained youth, I was more in love with Laura Marling than with Shakespeare. About an hour into the play, however, I started a new love affair with As You Like It. Of all Shakespeare’s plays, it’s the most unashamedly fun. After we emerge from the doldrums of the court, we enter a weird kind of forest-based sketch show, where scenes, characters and songs burst onto stage without any excuse beyond their unfailing capacity to entertain and linger. I got on the train with a guitar, because that was the kind of thing you did when you were a young member of an aspiring folk duo who wanted to look edgy. Since then I’ve got on various other trains with the same guitar, always in part wondering whether I could write a score to As You Like It. This tour then is in some way a childlike piece of wish fulfilment. But it’s more complicated than that, because I absolutely could not have written a score to As You Like It in 2013, the year I left school. When I started working on this show in early 2016, I still wasn’t sure I could do it, but I was sure I could try. In my three years at Cambridge I’ve written a fair few songs, been in a successful if mildly controversial musical comedy duo, composed a score for a stage production of Of Mice and Men, and written a sea-shanty for a Famous Five parody. Only after all this did I feel just about ready to give As You Like It a try.
The director and I discussed what we wanted from the songs in the script, and decided we wanted a bit of a mixture - acoustic, alternative, traditional, trendy - a festival atmosphere. The forest of Arden is a fairly spontaneous place, welcome to all-comers, from Jacques to William (a contrast made clear in our production), so I let the lyrics do the work and point me towards a mood for each song, rather than trying to hit on something consistent. I’ve ended up with a bittersweet Under the Greenwood Tree, a moody Blow Blow Thou Winter Wind, a driven, hot-under-the-collar version of The Horn, and a knees-up setting of It Was a Lover and his Lass. I’ve tweaked some of the traditional lyrics here and there, and worked with the cast to hit on some harmonies, and I think we’ve ended up with something that’s fun to sing, and fun to listen to. I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to have a stab at these songs, and leave my small mark on Arden.
I’m also thrilled to be bringing the play to schools, and to be helping run workshops on reading, acting and staging Shakespeare. I’m starting a Masters in American Literature this year, and hope to continue on to teach English, so I’m excited for this opportunity to engage students with a surprisingly tricky text. Our company is a talented and enthusiastic bunch, and I hope we can deliver some inspiring workshops and a funny, questioning, breathless trip into one of Shakespeare’s most enduring comedies.