Don’t get me wrong, I love West End glitz as much as anyone. My infatuation with musical theatre started in earnest at the age of 12, watching Fred & Ginger movies and Busby Berkeley extravaganzas on the TV. A good, old-fashioned, no-expense-spared show can still make my heart beat faster. But when it comes to staging my own work, my passion is for creating stories and situations using only the bare minimum of set, props and costumes, along with maximum imagination.
Just as well, too: my budget doesn’t stretch to anything more. So Three Chairs and a Hat seems a fitting way to describe the small-scale musicals I’ve written and staged, with the help of a massively talented group of performers and backstage magicians.
The Three Chairs and a Hat team have so far staged Verity, Daddy’s Girls, and my verse play built around the music of Kurt Weill, Smoke & Mirrors, and in 2019 we introduced MELODY, a one-act musical with a cast of two creating a world of characters. Melody Smart is a cheerful hotel receptionist who wins a singing lesson in the staff raffle—and finds her carefully constructed life unravelling to reveal secrets, passions, and more than a few buttered digestives. MELODY has played in Oxford and Ross-on-Wye, and heads for Abingdon’s Unicorn Theatre on 20th October—book your tickets here.
‘A really compelling piece of theatre’ ‘Nia Williams is a gifted and imaginative storyteller’ ‘Poignant, thought-provoking and utterly engrossing’ ‘Amazing storytelling, clever lyrics and music’ ‘Moving, funny, fascinating, absorbing’ ‘Well written, well directed, well acted—loved it’ . MELODY will be at the Space on the Mile in the Edinburgh Fringe, 8-12 August 2020.
VERITY is a 90-minute musical about one woman’s ordinary disasters. After playing to full houses in Oxford in 2014 and again in 2018, Verity made her debut at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2019, where audience feedback was wonderful and we were rewarded with a four-star review from The Mumble! Here are some quotes from that review: ‘…a veritable modern masterpiece’ … ‘an extremely talented bunch’ … ‘Nia’s piano playing … pretty much perfect’ … ‘she rhymes like a rapper’… ‘A fabulous piece on so many levels’ And here are some audience reactions: ‘I loved it! Such great performances from everyone, and fab music.’ ‘I really enjoyed the story, the fantastic singing and the slick presentation – very humorous, with some comical dance moves …’ ‘A brilliant show—really enjoyed it’ ‘It was absolutely bloody brilliant!’ Plans are simmering for more performances—watch this space!
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My resolution for 2019 is to do more multi-tasking … so I’m combining the jobs of keyboard-player and musical director for a number of shows during the year. As well as continuing the role of MD/accompanist for Opera Anywhere’s touring shows, including new productions of Patience and Hansel & Gretel, I’ve been taking turns as AMD for MAC Theatre’s production of ‘Made in Dagenham’, Musical Youth Oxford Company’s show, ‘The Wedding Singer’ and AMD for OxOps’ productions ‘Trials of Love’ and ‘Crazy for You’. Altogether, now—ready, AND …!
My latest novel , published by Gurning Gnome, is the story of Nathan Hill, a man who collects fragile and beautiful works of art, and the chance encounter with a former lover which threatens to break everything apart. Available on Amazon and Kindle. If you enjoy it—and even if you don’t—please contribute to the Amazon reviews. Writing is a two-way process, and I’d love to hear your side of the conversation. Here’s some of the feedback received from readers so far:
‘An enjoyable and thought-provoking read.’
‘Loved it. Interesting how dangerous revisiting the past can be.’
‘Heartbreaking. Compelling. Acutely observed. Effortlessly and subtly witty. The writing as beautifully and skilfully crafted as Nathan’s glass collection.’
I’ve written six novels and many short stories. The most recent novels—Birdcage, Hidden Gems and Breakage—are published by Gurning Gnome. Click here for the Facebook page, and here to see my Amazon page—or click on any of the book covers at the foot of the homepage. For more information, including reviews, go to the Words menu on my homepage, and select Fiction.
Singer Rebecca Allison (Martin) has been my musical partner in a bewildering range and number of projects. As Mezzopiano we performed opera, musical theatre, recitals, concerts and shows, including my verse play Smoke & Mirrors, based on the music of one of our favourite composers, Kurt Weill. Becca’s portrayal of twin sisters across four decades—singing in several languages—was a tour de force. She was an inspiration and a very dear friend. Becca died suddenly on 21st March 2016 after contracting sepsis. I’m immensely grateful to have known and worked with this lovely woman, and to have many recorded memories of her beautiful voice.
Here are two tracks of us performing together: Lost, from my new musical Melody; and No-one Is Alone, by Stephen Sondheim, a song with particular meaning for Becca and her family.
One of the best things about being a pianist is getting to play the role of ‘orchestra’ for smaller-scale productions and performances. As well as enjoying the rich and exciting operas of Mozart, Puccini and others in my regular work as MD and pianist for Opera Anywhere, I’ve had the opportunity to accompany some thrilling close-up opera at the Arcola Theatre in London, where Paula Chitty’s company Irrantional Theatre presented a dramatic double bill of ‘Gianni Schicchi’ and ‘Pagliacci’ as part of the annual Grimeborn opera festival. ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ is the best-known aria in Puccini’s witty tale, in which Gianni Schicchi uses his impersonating skills to take revenge on his snobbish family; and in Leoncavallo’s highly emotional melodrama, based on a real murder case, professional clown Pagliacci lets reality break into performance, with violent and terrible consequences. Two original and involving productions, and two nights of excellent and accessible opera.
I also had the pleasure of helping Stuart Pendred’s brand new company Oxford Opera bring opera to a new audience in a concert performance of Puccini’s sinister tale of political intrigue, rape and torture, ‘Tosca’. Oxford Opera’s aim is to introduce a new generation of singers to a genre they may not otherwise encounter, and I had a great time helping out at rehearsals with students at Cherwell School in the lead-up to the final event—which featured superb professional soloists, including international soprano Lee Bisset, as well as a wonderful chorus of singers ranging from 5 to 18 years old. For 2019, the company breaks into new territory with a fully staged production of ‘Carmen’—another tale of high drama and fiery passions—at the Oxford Playhouse, featuring highly renowned mezzo Hannah Pedley.
The African savannah was re-created in Didcot’s Cornerstone arts centre, at the latest Musical In A Day children’s workshop. Joining me for a day exploring ‘The Lion King’ was dancer Rhonda Sparrey, and together we led fifteen 6- to 9-year-olds through the story, songs, dialogue and movement of the hit musical, even making good use of break-times to draw characters and events for our pop-up gallery. At the end of a busy and creative day our hard-working cast presented a potted version of the musical for their parents. This workshop followed several others in the same series: ‘Discover Annie’, ‘Discover Oliver!’, and ‘Discover Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’.
Pictured below are the children’s technicolour illustrations for ‘Joseph’ and some of the home-made masks we used to create the Lion Kingdom.
I’ve also had great fun working with Creation Theatre on their holiday workshop weeks, most recently collaborating with drama leads Eloise Sheffield and Katie Blackwell to devise a piece of musical theatre with a group of 9- to 12-year-olds. At the end of the week they performed ‘Villains’ to an appreciative audience of family and friends, complete with original songs such as ‘Stay at home Wolf’ and the Stepmother Rap.
One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is involvement in projects that take music and movement to sectors of the community who might not otherwise have that access. As well as co-leading the ENB’s Dance for Parkinson’s programme, I’ve joined forces with a number of dance artists to create live music sessions in hospitals and homes around the area, including a project at Witney Community Hospital, visiting the wards and day room to bring some song and dance into the daily routine.
Dancer Rhonda Sparrey and I were among 12 practitioners funded by the FLOURISH programme to encourage the use of arts among people with dementia. We led a course of eight Dance for Dementia workshops at the Christchurch Centre in Henley, featuring themes such as A Night At The Theatre and A Day At The Seaside. Here’s a short film about our work, which gives some idea of the extraordinary power of music to revive and reconnect.
Projects in 2019 have included working with dance artist Roosa Leimu-Brown on a series of Dance to Health workshops run by the University of Reading, drawing on the collection held in its Museum of English Rural Life. In August I joined a chamber group of musicians at beautiful Snape Maltings in Suffolk (below), where we accompanied Amy Mallett’s opera The Catchpole Chronicles, devised by Co-Lab, a team of experienced outreach artists. The piece was created from workshops with people who have Parkinson’s Disease, and inspired by the story of 19th-century convict Margaret Catchpole. The musicians returned to the recital hall to record the music, and there are plans to bring The Catchpole Chronicles to the Royal Opera House in 2020—watch this space!