On the 21st anniversary of THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK “enjoying” a short run in London’s West End, (October 24th 1991 to December 12th 1991) here are a few notes and pictures about the project. More than a blog. There will be other SNARK “articles” in this PROJECTS section, but just for starters:
The word “Musical” is generally taken as shorthand for “musical play”. The word “play” should be taken very loosely in the case of this production. The story is not Agatha Christie or Shakespeare in terms of plot. Neither was that of the original nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll, upon which I based the piece. The Carroll poem – like Alice, was a series of tableaux, and very little more. It nevertheless had huge potential for character/atmosphere/musical/dance development. Other shows have managed with little or no plot. Take Cats. Nothing really happens; it’s just a chain of characters introducing themselves. Take the Nutcracker. It’s an excuse for a chain of dances by different characters. Compared to those two, Snark is an edge-of-the-seat thriller! It is, in fact, an entertainment, a confection – if viewed from one end of the critical scale, and a piece of theatrical art if viewed from the other end of that spectrum. My production was mercilessly pounded by the critics.
Wierdly, they didn’t seem to find fault with my design/animation and direction, even though I was a relative rookie in all three departments. Indeed they singled them out for special praise. It seems that, almost to a man (or woman) they found the score inadequate. In a way, that delights me, because I am confident that the score and lyrics compare favourably with anything I’ve ever done, and anything on Broadway or the West End. It has/had already been accepted as such by audiences in concert and on record. In my own mind this vindicated me artistically, but it didn’t rescue the production from the bile of the critics – who I can only imagine must have been blinded by the power and unusualness of the production to the extent that hey “missed” the score and songs. We used 200 projectors exhibiting 12,000 slides, (hand-drawn and coloured by Yours Truly) to create animated and three dimensional sets. One critic thought they were computer graphics, – another thought the unusual credit sequence, where each principal character took a bow at the beginning, was a piece of film!
I don’t want this to become a piece about the critics – I’d like it to become a piece about the piece. However you must allow me to mention the disappointment I felt, which led to the only occasion in my life when I suffered from clinical depression and near bankruptcy.
The story of a bunch of adventurers who go off looking for The Snark is ripe for analogy and interpretation. In fact it already IS full of analogy. The characters are all of different professions, and each might, who knows, think of the Snark as a different thing. When asked, Carroll was enigmatic about what he meant the Snark to be. He more or less said “It’s what you want it to be”, but he did say that his favourite way of looking at it was that it was an analogy for the pursuit of happiness. The characters, whose names all begin with the letter “B”, are The Bellman (Captain) the Butcher, The Baker, The Beaver, the Bonnet Maker, the Broker, The Barrister, the Billiard Marker, the Boots, and the Banker. I augmented the cast by adding, in my piece, the Bishop. The reason for this is that I wanted to add the very strong hint that the Snark might be God or the pursuit of a spiritual goal.
I am not going to write much more at this stage, – apart from posting quite a few pictures from the West End production. I do fully intend to re-mount this show, and this time, hopefully it will last a little longer than 7 weeks in the theatre. I plan to begin by recording the full score (which has never been recorded in its entirety). The currently available Snark album is a concept album which was later developed for the stage. It is the fully developed version, containing, in my view, some of the best songs, – which I intend soon to record and release on Dramatico Records. (More to follow: work in progress)