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The Writers

Paul Harris

Paul Harris - Composer - Henry VIII The Musical
Paul studied at the Royal College of Music and has been interested in musical composition for as long as he can remember. In a previous life, whilst running music departments at schools in London and Cambridge, he felt the need to write for the orchestra and choir. This then led him to write a range of musicals which have culminated in Henry VIII The Musical.

Eddie Copeland

Eddie Copeland - Writer and Producer - Henry VIII The Musical
Eddie Copeland is a writer and guitarist from Cambridge. He has played guitar for numerous musical productions, including Grease, Godspell and Joseph. He has always enjoyed history, and it was this that first sparked the idea of writing a musical about Henry VIII. “It seemed so obvious,” he says, “You’ve got a storyline everyone knows, a powerful protagonist and a wealth of satisfying lead roles to perform. What’s the catch?”.

Interview with Paul Harris and Eddie Copeland

This interview first appeared on Suzan St Maur’s popular writing website, HowToWriteBetter.net

How did you first get started writing music/lyrics?

Paul: I’ve been writing music ever since I can remember, and I studied at the Royal College of Music. Before Henry VIII The Musical, I had written another seven musicals for younger school pupils, focused around themes like Noah, Christmas and Robin Hood. I always have a musical idea in my head!

Eddie: For years I’ve enjoyed writing, and the written word has been a central part of most jobs I have done, from journalism to professional fundraising. This musical has been my first major public piece of creative writing, and has been a phenomenal learning experience. Having had to produce three different versions of the show for three different theatres, we now have a really tight and polished script that’s evolved over time.

How did you two get together, and how does the partnership work?

Eddie: Years ago, Paul was Head of Music at a school I attended in Cambridge. We bumped into each other several years later, and realised that we had similar interests in music and recording, and so got together to work on some material.

Paul: As for the partnership on this show, thankfully we seem to have very complementary skill sets: I focus on the composing, training the cast to sing the songs, and I lead the band for the performances. Eddie’s passion is writing and public speaking, so he wrote the script and has directed the show. Everything else from publicity to organisation we share as best we can!

Why Henry VIII? What did you see in him – rather than any other famous historical character – that inspired you to write this?

Eddie: There’s an age-old tradition in theatre where audiences love seeing a familiar tale retold. Everyone knows about Henry VIII (just think of the thousands of books, dozens of films and The Tudors TV series). Quite simply Henry VIII is the perfect character for the stage. He’s dynamic, enigmatic and changeable: the musical starts with a young and energetic king with the hopes of a nation at his feet; but he progresses into an angry, dark tyrant. More importantly, his story is filled with other amazing characters, too – not least the six wives who each have such strong personalities, and yet are so distinctive. Henry’s story is a gift for the stage and allows us to explore every emotion possible: there’s anger, humour, despair and hope in equal measure. I don’t know of any other story that offers the same dramatic range.

You say you incorporate a number of musical genres in the score. Why did you choose the genres you chose? How did you suit them to the story?

Paul: In any successful musical, the songs mustn’t be an interlude to the plot – they must drive it forward. We try to convey that not just with the lyrics, but also with the genre of the music, and I tried to match the musical style to convey something about the character or situation. Like the musical score to a film, the music should be so well suited to the plot that it never seems too obvious or out of place – I think that’s what we’ve achieved with this production.

How did you deal with the difference between 16th century English and modern English? Did you mix those together? If so, how does that work?

Eddie: This is very much a modern musical, both with the music and the script, but we don’t ignore its old English heritage. In fact, for some parts of the script, such as the King’s Coronation ceremony and the trial where Katherine of Aragon defends her marriage to a packed courtroom, I found the actual words that were said at the time, and have used these in the production. Just as with the music, we have tried to use language that suits the characters: some of our more serious personalities such as Thomas Wolsey speak with the deep and learned vocabulary of their day, whilst more comedic characters such as the Jester deliver their lines in a much more modern style. It may sound strange, but it seems to work!

The show has been performed by a number of schools and other young performers, to young audiences. How do you feel that helps their appreciation of Henry VIII and 16th century history?

Eddie: This musical is a brilliant way for young audiences to learn about one of the most famous periods of English history. We’ve been contacted by dozens of schools who have requested that we visit them to perform it precisely because it’s highly entertaining and educational at the same time. My seven year old niece came to watch the original show, and she can still recall all the wives, their names and how they fitted into Henry’s life. After the show she looked at me earnestly and said: ‘It would have been much simpler if he’d just stuck with his first wife, wouldn’t it?’!

This interview first appeared on Suzan St Maur’s popular writing website, HowToWriteBetter.net