And How To Ask The Big Questions Via Science Fiction Musical Theatre.
Astronaut John Spartan has finally made it into space… only to discover that it’s not all he had hoped for. Accompanied only by an alien and a moody computer, he must find something to fill the void…
An unconventional story and a live rock band makes Summer Nights in Space a new piece of theatre to watch out for – and it’s already setting off sparks. Playing at the Vault Festival, in London Waterloo, it’s a musical comedy about love, faith and the meaning of life. Intrigued by this new kind of high, we set off at warp speed to try and meet the people behind this interstellar show and bumped into the story’s very own writer, Henry Carpenter, somewhere between here and the Andromeda Galaxy.
Henry is a hugely charismatic and imaginative young writer, so we wanted to know a bit more about what goes on inside his inquiring mind. The result was a great conversation about big ideas, life, theatre and all the things we love.
Hi Henry – great to meet you! What gave you the idea for Summer Nights in Space?
I previously wrote book music and lyrics for The Quentin Dentin Show which took the same approach of using the glitz and spectacle of musical theatre to talk about advertising and the way that messages and received wisdom are sometimes forced down our throats. With Summer Nights in Space I wanted to continue my work with the same kind of atmosphere because I like big concepts, big ideas.
Why did you want to set a show in space?
I find Space fascinating, not just from a scientific point of view but a poetic one. Space is highly evocative. I’m interested in the way that Space plays into a lot of rock music from the 60s & 70s and the way that scientific things effortlessly transliterate into poetic things that we understand or get feelings from.
The opening song/overture is Everything’s Better in Space and that’s the idea: whatever you have, putting it in Space will make it better. The main character, Captain Spartan has worked his whole life to go to Space because he thinks he’ll be happy once he gets there, thinks that it will solve all his many personal problems. Space is a scientific reality, but poetically Space represents a greener pasture that we can all get to – it’s the unknown, the final frontier. Quentin Dentin examined the way mental health and happiness are sold do us. Summer Nights in Space is in many ways a follow up to that, launching from a similar place but using this unscientific notion of Space.
Can people still see The Quentin Dentin Show?
Yes. It played at the Arts Theatre last year and it’s coming back to the West End at the Tristan Bates Theatre for 6 weeks from the 20 June until the 29 July 2017.
Where did the title Summer Nights in Space come from?
It’s both a reference and a joke: There is no summer in Space, no seasons, no terrestrial time and no nights. But it’s also a reference to Summer Nights from Grease and plays on “In Space” as a suffix. A thread within the show is that time has no meaning in Space.
Who’s in the cast?
We have a small cast, just three actors. Matthew Morgan plays Captain John Spartan. Candice Palladino plays the Alien and Benjamin Victor plays The Computer/Lethal Space Bizzle.
Do you have a background in Musical Theatre?
I actually trained as a chorister. I was a professional singer as a child, based at the Temple Church and then St Margaret’s. After my voice broke I became interested in rock music. I had a band for years called Jimmy Getaway with which I was lead singer and writer, and I’m currently singing with another band called Jellly I’m also writing an Opera with Paul Garred formerly of The Kooks. I have a great interest in bands and sort of fell into theatre.
What attracted you to Musical Theatre?
I think musicals offer a different creative scope to being in a band. Rock music isn’t widely popular currently, or visibly evolving in the same way that the musical is still evolving. You see it every year with new shows on Broadway – and that’s a really interesting place to be.
What current or past musicals have influenced the way you think about the genre?
Well, Rocky Horror was a big influence on me, but my favourite show is probably Assassins by Stephen Sondheim. I like Chicago too…shows that have a self-reflexivity – with both shows there’s a sense of playing out the audience and of the show within a show. A lot of my favourite musical shows have been extremely tightly choreographed rock gigs, things like Alice Cooper and Devo, musicians who put on shows that have a suggestion of narrative, crazy visuals on stage – an awareness of being a show.
What’s next for the show?
This is the premiere of Summer Nights in Space but it was in some ways it was written as a second act to the Quentin Dentin show with a view to those two parts coming together. Having said that Summer Nights in Space is a self-contained show although there are a lot of overlaps in terms of roles and the kind of archetypes used.
How do you find writing all three disciplines – Book Music & Lyrics?
It comes naturally although I’m not truly on my own though because even with Summer Nights in Space I work closely with a producer, Hannah Elsy. Neither show has been come up with in isolation. I met Hannah at University and we worked together on the King’s Shakespeare Company and started a professional relationship, she would produce and manage things and I would write music. My first musical was written for them – Measure for Measure In Cabaret. Hannah and I did that together. And the QD show has been workshopped through its entire life so far, in so many iterations and Hannah has always been there with a view to putting a version on. Summer Nights in Space has been different. I’ve written it myself over the last year and it’s been workshopped a couple of times in 10-20 minute pieces. We took Quentin Dentin to Edinburgh but my point is I’m never truly writing alone.
It must be a very different creative experience when you do write with someone else – there must be an element of compromise?
Yes, but I like that. You’ve got to be willing to compromise because I’d say 90% of the time two heads are better than one.
What about the practical aspects of getting a show on – that’s always a hard slog right?
Well, I’m always the MD – so I work with the band. The guitarist from Jellly, my current band, plays guitar and we have a drummer. We work more like a rock band – and we’re there with the actors, and things change, but that’s the joy of it.
What instruments do you play?
Keyboards…and I’m a singer. So backing vocals and piano/bass.
What’s the format of the show? Is it all sung?
It’s a mixture of songs and dialogue. I’d describe it as space rock. There’s a lot of David Bowie in there, a lot of the Beatles, and going back further still, crooners like Sinatra, as well as some musical theatre. But overall it’s space rock with lots of synth, guitar & drums.
Could you outline the plot of the show?
Captain John Spartan is an astronaut in his mid-thirties. He’s worked his whole life as an officer at Space Base, an astronaut training facility. His colleagues at Space Base got so sick of his fanaticism, that they got him drunk and sent him up in a space shuttle by himself. He’s been up there for three years, stuck in space with a deadpan Hal-esque computer, trying to make the best of it. The show kicks off when Captain Spartan receives a distress signal from a beautiful lady who is also stuck in space. Spartan’s journey becomes a search to find and rescue this beautiful lady. Space is a metaphor for God and Spartan’s love of Space is his faith…but after docking with the lady’s ship, something happens which causes him to lose that faith. There’s a major plot twist but to reveal any more really would spoil the show.
Thanks Henry. If people wanted to listen to any of the music from the show, is that possible?
Yes, although at the moment it’s all in demo form on my soundcloud. There’s also more info on The Quentin Dentin Show on facebook.
Visit www.vaultfestival.com for more info & to book tickets for Summer Nights in Space
15 – 19 February 2017
THE VAULTS, Leake Street, SE1 7NN
Looking further ahead? Check out our top tips for must-see theatre in 2017!