Features Q&A and Interviews Published 7 November 2011

Amy Booth-Steel and Simon Thomas

On new musical Ex and the future of British musical theatre.

Catherine Love

In a time when musical theatre is dominated by jukebox shows and film adaptations, Ex is a rare beast in many ways. Thomas is understanding about the harsh economic climate that has eliminated risk-taking and maintains that some great theatre has come out of the trend towards the recognisable, but complains that “putting familiar songs to a familiar story seems a bit of a cop out”.

He is keen for more risks and boundary pushing, happy to call himself an advocate for new writing. I suggest that perhaps Ex and other musicals of its kind can prompt a new wave of British musical theatre, a possibility that both Thomas and Booth-Steel are enthusiastic about. “It’s not going to be the start of a revolution,” Thomas concedes with a wry laugh, “but I think that the more people that write for and invest in British musical theatre the better.”

The potential for Ex to successfully defy current musical theatre trends might just lie in its unconventionality and freshness. Booth-Steel sees the quirky comedy of the script as one of its strengths, along with a choice of subject matter that everyone can identify with; we’ve all experienced what she amusingly describes as “that eggy moment” of encountering an ex. “The first song, in which Ruby and Jack fall in love for the first time, is called ‘Oh F**k’,” I am told with a hint of a giggle from Booth-Steel. “I think that gives you a good idea of where it’s going”.

So where is British musical theatre going? Although hopeful for the future, Thomas accepts that times continue to be hard, comparing the current predicament of the West End to the financial dilemma of actors everywhere. “Sometimes you have to take a job based as much on its financial merits as its artistic merits,” he admits with admirable frankness. “In an industry where nothing is guaranteed, whenever you have an opportunity to shore up your finances you’ve got to think very carefully before you turn those opportunities down.”

We wrap things up, however, on a more optimistic note. Despite recognising that this country’s musical theatre is not currently in the best state, Thomas is confident that theatre trends “move in circles” and that new material will eventually return in the cycle. It is Booth-Steel, however, who has the most positive take on the situation. She has a belief in the imminent emergence of “something brand new that’s never been done before”, concluding with cheerful determination that “something new is going to break through soon”.

Ex is running at the Soho Theatre from 10 November – 3 December. For more information and tickets, visit their website.


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Catherine Love

Catherine is a freelance arts journalist and theatre critic. She writes regularly for titles including The Guardian, The Stage and WhatsOnStage. She is also currently an AHRC funded PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, pursuing research into the relationship between text and performance in 21st century British theatre.

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