THE HUNTING OF THE SNARK

Published on March 21st, 2012

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)

Comments

  1. Posted by Stintfang on March 22nd, 2012, 07:59

    That is so great to hear. I wish I could make it there. But for budgetary reasons. hmmm…
    I wish that this time the critics will celebrate the Snark-Encounter. If not, I will send them the Boojum.

  2. Posted by Theresa on April 19th, 2012, 00:31

    I am so looking forward to the hearing the full recording. I still love listening to the soundtrack. I raised my children on it.

    It would be fantastic if the musical actually came to Australia.

  3. Posted by Gowan Clews on April 20th, 2012, 20:34

    I went to see Snark 3 times. On the 2nd night, penultimate, and half way through the run. I had seen the concert version at the Royal Albert Hall in 1987, and virtually worn out the cassette (remember them?) from repeated playing. For me, the Snark album was one of Mike’s best.

    The stage show was awesome. I just did not understand the critics or the glee they seemed to take in trashing the show. They were forever complaining that there were no new, original musicals in London. And when Mike came along with just that, they trashed it.

    The show did develop during its short run, with new songs and tighter scripting. At the end it was magnificent.

    Every night I was there it got a standing ovation. I believe Mike made a recording of the last night for posterity. Would love to buy this, to relive 3 amazing nights out.

  4. Posted by Brian on May 5th, 2012, 00:12

    I knew I was right! Seven years running a fan club down here for Mike, all based on hearing The Snark, was seven years of fantastic music and songs from a man I admired then and still do now. Mike, please record it in it’s entirety and bring it back to Australia as a stage show. You have a huge following here, none of them bigger than me and the young girl who introduced the Snark to me all those years ago, Pietra. Best wishes, … Brian Rowstron (Melbourne).

  5. Posted by Rob Cope on May 6th, 2012, 13:37

    Snark is without doubt one of (if not THE) best scores Mike Batt has ever written. I have never seen it live and have played the brilliant concept album (and a bootleg recording I came across of the West End version)constantly. How thrilling to be able to have the Snark complete in a new digital recording. I look forward to it Mike.

  6. Posted by René Granacher on May 9th, 2012, 13:36

    I have been enchanted by the Snark music ever since I first heard the album. Among all the great music that you created, Mike, I consider this the most outstanding. (Together, maybe, almost, with Caravans … and closely followed by Schizophonia … and Waves, oh, and the Tarot Suite … etc.) When the music cube came out last year, I ordered it as soon as I saw that it contained the Snark TV version which I had never encountered before. Since then, I have watched it many times and never get tired of it – wonderful music, wonderful songs, wonderful narration, design, concept … just a wonderful project.

    Recently I decided to let my boys (3 and 5 years, both fond of music) have a look at it too, half expecting it to be too hard for them to swallow at this age. Well, instead they are completely fascinated and insist on watching the DVD almost every day, sometimes twice. (Just last night the small one wouldn’t stop crying until we let him watch at least the first 10 minutes though it was past bedtime already. It’s hard to say No as a dad when you’re proud of your kids’ taste.) I know this is not children’s music, but besides being captured by the melodies they also enjoy the humorous bits and the whole atmosphere. As they do not understand English yet, I translate a bit of the story for them on a level adapted to their understanding. And they try to sing the songs without knowing any of the words, with sometimes interesting results. If there will be a new stage version, be sure that I will travel to London (or wherever) to watch it together with my family!

    Concerning the critics’ reactions to the West End version: I often found that when critics are unable to cope with something because it is too original and doesn’t fit their usual categories, they will watch each other closely to find a reaction scheme that will not differ from the mainstream – and when then one of them decides on a negative response, all others follow, taking up and rephrasing the same points as the first one. (I experienced that myself once with a musical production that was positively reviewed in all places but one, where the first newspaper guy didn’t like parts of our story and playing, and the others followed suit. It was all some dimensions smaller than with the Snark musical, but the same principle – critics’ abilities to judge new things just don’t match the power their position gives them.)

    I am very much looking forward to the new production and any other Snark news from you!

  7. Posted by Michael on May 11th, 2012, 06:24

    It was an honour to see the London production and attend a brief chat by yourself to explain the show etc! To this day the score is one of my favourites and is played often! Glad to now have the sheet music after busking most of it for years and so looking forward to the new recording! Mike you are a musical genius, brought up on the wombles, then snark and now Katie! cheers x

  8. Posted by Toby Mitchell on May 14th, 2012, 16:25

    I also saw the show live in late 1991 and loved it. I owned the cassette and then bought the CD – I look forward to the next version! BTW Schizophonia is a work of genius – especially Railway Hotel and It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.

  9. Posted by Rachel Shenton on May 18th, 2012, 16:50

    Clearly this was meant to be, I was watching QI recently and they mentioned The Hunting of the Snark. It jolted me. I knew I knew it from somewhere and in the deep dark depths was a little voice singing…”It’s the Hunting of the Snark”. 2 minutes later I had downloaded the album and amazed myself that I could sing along without fail to every lyric…it reminded me of long lost memories of my wonderful childhood. I thank you sir, for the joyful times i clearly had singing this 20+ odd years ago (surely putting on every voice!) and I thank you now, for giving me the key to revisit a joyful and innocent time. I am definately a sold seat!

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