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BBC Commissions New Musical For A Virtual Theatre Experience

Theo Jamieson

The BBC announced today that they have commissioned an original new musical to be staged for radio and podcast. The virtual musical experience will allow anyone to once again step into their own theatre of the mind and witness the first specially commissioned musical set during the global pandemic. A Magnum Opus production for the BBC, ‘U.Me: The Musical’ (pronounced you dot Me) will premiere globally at 8pm BST on 12 May 2021 on BBC World Service and BBC Sounds.

Bringing together an incredible team ‘U.Me: The Musical’ is a regional UK production for BBC World Service and will feature words and music by Theo Jamieson, previously music director for Everybody’s Talking About Jamie and Here Lies Love, with music production by Liverpool based Steve Levine famed for his work with Culture Club, The Clash and The Beach Boys. The book is written by Simon Pitts and Theo Jamieson and commissioned by Simon Pitts, BBC World Service.

A cultural response to a unique global collective experience, the musical will not only offer the upsides of a good musical for listeners: hope, joy and consolation, but will also employ and support British creatives: singers, musicians, mix engineers, orchestrators and so on in a sector with reduced opportunities for work. The musical will feature contemporary musicians as well as the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra with over 60 musicians across the UK, all recording their parts remotely to be mixed by Steve Levine in his Liverpool studio.

‘U.Me: the Musical’ is an international love story, based around two young people on opposite sides of the world, who meet online and make a true connection.  Having moved to London to start a new job just as everything in her world stops, Rose meets Ryo across a crowded video conference at work. He’s a Japanese-American living in Kyoto experiencing a quarter-life crisis and is starting out again.  Alone and together during the lockdowns they make sense of it all between them and find hope and joy amidst everything.

Simon Pitts commented: “It can take six years to create a new musical for the West End or Broadway. We’re writing and arranging and recording u.me in 5 months during lockdown.  We’re excited to be bringing together some of Britain’s greatest music and drama talents in a project touching on our shared global experience over this last extraordinary year.”

Theo Jamieson commented: “The BBC wanted to do a radio musical in response to the covid pandemic, a romance in this moment we are in that would get the blood pumping and raise goosebumps. When all guns are blazing on a musical, nothing generates that much energy and that much feeling. It’s a big challenge, but actually the feeling of responding and delivering something to the public in a short amount of time is actually really fun. It’s fantastic as an artist.”

The musical is a broadcast hour and will have its World Premiere at 8pm BST on 12 May 2021 on BBC World Service and will be chapterised for podcast on BBC Sounds.

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Interview with Amit Lahav, Artistic Director of Gecko: “The role of an artist is to challenge the status quo.”

It seems that we are getting better at being honest with each other about our own frailties.

Institute is driven by Geckoʼs desire to explore complexities in human nature; our impulse to care and our complete reliance on one another. We are entering a time in which we are potentially more fractured and disconnected than ever before – when the time comes, will anyone really care? But a Gecko world is never as it first appears…

Gecko have teamed up with mental health charity Suffolk Mind to launch a series of  workshops & participatory opportunities.
I had a phone chat with company director and all round theatrical wizard Amit Lahav recently.
Here is what we discussed:

Amit Lahav

Amit Lahav

Hi Amit! Congratulations on Live from Television Centre – the collaboration with Battersea Arts Centre and the BBC – It really highlighted the values of British independent theatre. You’ve had quite a year haven’t you.>
I couldn’t be happier – it was outrageously ambitious and we couldn’t have pushed harder. We explored the extraordinary Gecko language inside TV and film, we went 1,000% with BAC who produced it and went in all guns blazing. It was something that everyone believed in. I think with the BBC wanted us to make something incredibly theatrical – I am genuinely proud and I had to think as a film maker, which was incredibly challenging.

There is a lot of debate around how live screenings of shows have changed theatre; for better or worse. They are increasingly popular with audiences. What do you think their impact on live arts are? 
It’s incredibly important to keep engagement live. We are in a dangerous situation of becoming disconnected in a society that has a hidden loneliness. Don’t get me wrong, there is an enormous benefit having work seen by larger audiences, but the present connection with audiences is something I wouldn’t want to move away from.

Institute is a remarkable production exploring troubled men. 
At the heart of Institute is the question to do with masculinity and culture, in these times people are trying to survive more than it seems. It’s subterranean, on a multitude of levels, the experiences men have on an internal and external level.

Does it feels like more is required of audiences than just talking about the ‘issues’ and how have people responded to the show out on tour?
We have so frequently come across people who have been affected by Institute, who at the end of the production have been unable to move from their seats. They want to talk to us, to someone. Out on tour there is someone from the charity Suffolk Mind as well as a panel discussion with service providers. Uniquely, as well there is someone local to the venues who have proximity to that venue and have used those resources available to them.

Political correctness and art don’t *usually* mix well. Institute feels like a genuinely political piece of theatre, would you agree? 
The role of an artist is to challenge the status quo. All Gecko shows are political. In some way being the bearer of truth, Gecko is an important commodity and in these times even more critical.

What would you say have been the most rewarding moments of getting Institute in front of audiences? 
I think that what I have been learning about mental health has been so extraordinary because it’s shone a mirror about where Institute came from within me, there is something very powerful in that. At one end on the spectrum there is wellness and the other there is not. You can be on that continuum somewhere and that stress can be the crossover. The fragility of being a human being can take you by surprise. You might know someone who is suffering. It’s important to reiterate that there is help out there and it’s good to talk about these things.”
Cheers! 

Nuffield / Southampton / www.nuffieldtheatre.co.uk

Performances2 – 5 November at 7.30pm / tickets

Ancillary programme2 November at 9pm – post show panel discussion (free with show ticket)

4 November at 2pm – 5pm – workshop (free with show ticket, registration information will be available on the venue website)

Playhouse / Liverpool / www.everymanplayhouse.com

Performances16 – 19 November at 7.30pm (except for: 5.30pm on 17 November) / tickets

Ancillary programme17 November at 7pm – post show panel discussion (free with show ticket)

17 November at 12pm-3pm – workshop (free with show ticket, registration information will be available on the venue website)