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The Reimagining of Sister Wendy: Interview

We interview Bryon Fear (director) and Marcus Reeves (writer) about next week’s production of Postcards from God – The Sister Wendy Musical:

Marcus: What inspired you about Sister Wendy Beckett and her story? How did you research it?

The show originally started out as a one-person show about the nature of fame and although it has changed format completely, that’s stayed as one of the central themes now that the show is a full-length musical. Set in a time before social media and reality TV, what happens when someone who seemingly has no desire to be famous is thrust into the spotlight? Can you be famous and still spread a message that’s useful and sincere?

I read a lot of Sister Wendy’s books, visited several convents, watched her TV shows and was lucky enough to meet some of the people who had worked with her along the way. I really enjoyed converting her essays on various works of art into songs, especially as her interpretations are often quite saucy. I am still a bit sad that ’Sitting Bull by Dhruva Mistry’ fell by the wayside as it featured the immortal line ‘I find I must adjust my spectacles whilst gazing on your precious testicles’.

Bryon: From JC Superstar to Sister Wendy – quite a contrast! Can you give us a preview of what we can expect to see and hear without spoilers?

My vision for Marcus’s show is very different from the way we staged Jesus Christ Superstar. After it was confirmed that we would be staging the show, I took Gerard Johnson our Musical Director and Marcus to see Kinky Boots at the Adelphi Theatre. The purpose of the trip was to let them both know that with ‘Sister Wendy’ I wanted to try and stage something with the energy and surprises of a West End show.

Marcus: What were the challenges of writing a musical about a real and indeed living person? Is she aware of the show?

For a while Sister Wendy and I were in correspondence, so in the early versions of the one-person show I included what I could decipher from her famously inscrutable handwriting. Although some of those around her had reservations about depicting her onstage, particularly in the form a musical (which is often seen as a fairly irreverent genre), she personally gave us her blessing and at the Jermyn Street Theatre production one of her cousins attended and said we’d captured a lot of her character. When she was a guest on Graham Norton’s radio show, he played her a song from the show, which was a lovely moment and it was touching to hear her (typically quirky) reaction to it.

You can have a listen to that moment here

Bryon: Who are the characters in the show?

The play really focusses on Sister Wendy Beckett and her unusual rise to fame. So it naturally includes members of the convent and the people she came into contact with during the making of her television programmes. Marcus writes very memorable characters, some based loosely on real people and others imagined. They’re the sort of characters audiences will fall in love with.

Has there been any tweaks to the show for SLT since its first outing in 2017?

Marcus: As the old luvvie adage goes, ‘musicals aren’t written, they are rewritten’ and that’s certainly the case with Postcards from God. The revised version of the show for SLT is quite different to what has been put on previously. It helped a great deal to take a break from what was quite a long and intensive period of work on early stage productions and recording a concept cast album. Appropriately, rather like a painter stepping back to look at a portrait, with a bit of time and distance, you can see what works and what doesn’t.

Bryon: Indeed, when I told Marcus I’d like to direct the show, I discussed with him some changes that I thought would make the script tighter and help resolve some moments that could have been clearer. I also asked Marcus to replace one of the songs with another great song of his which I preferred. I didn’t realise at the time that the song I wanted to use was originally written for the show and Marcus was thrilled to include it again.

Marcus: It also means you can be fairly brutal and cut things that earlier on you were far too attached to, and see what’s missing or needs reworking. I hope that audiences will enjoy a funny and moving story, and take away Sister Wendy’s message that ‘Art is Meant for Everyone’.

Finally, Bryon directing any play is challenging – what do music and songs add to that mix?

It makes it much more of a complex and lengthy process. Songs and harmonies have to be learnt which can be very time consuming, something that has to be done before you can add them into scenes. This is usually done with a single accompaniment and so at a later stage a band and other instruments are added to the mix. Then, you have an additional layer of complexity as you add choreography. Fortunately Gerard and Anna Callender (my musical director and choreographer) are quite brilliant and we have a great working relationship which makes the process extremely enjoyable and very fulfilling. It has taken a very dedicated team of over 40 people to put this show on and we’re extremely proud and excited to share what we have created with our audiences next week.

Postcards from God – the Sister Wendy Musical runs 6 -10 November at The Old Fire Station. At the time of writing the show had completely sold out, but on those nights if you live locally it may be worth coming along for possible returns. Buy tickets for our shows here.