Victoria went to see Epidemic at the Old Vic Tunnels this week, a musical by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Suzy Davies, based on interviews conducted with over 250 Londoners, exploring issues surrounding obesity and mental health, performed by a cast of 120 young people from across London.
Brilliant staging, great music and brilliantly witty songs combine with the pumping energy and talent of the people in it, and although it thumps a few tubs, it also finds a way to give you access the issues in a complex, shaded way. You walk out glowing with the dark hilarity of it, wondering at the scale and wit of the production, and with different questions to the ones you went in with.
18 months and 500 people’s contributions went into making the musical. For us at Sparknow, there are insights in the process of making Epidemic that chime exactly with our own experiences of client work:
- In the development phase the production team experimented with a dystopian future where everyone relied on technology to fix them, but community trial audiences wanted something more than a warning from the future, they wanted an understanding of how people feel today and hope for ways people can connect.
- To avoid being a public service announcement they had to find a way to raise questions.
- They decided to make a musical as a challenge, but also as license to explore the subject matter in a fantastical way, bringing the themes to the audience.
- Rather than verbatim theatre, to get round sensitivities of personal narratives they made it entirely fictional, although of our world and recognisable.
Finally, the whole process of making Epidemic feels very Sparkish. As the programme says:
‘One of the ideas that filters into the narrative of the piece came from Professor Ian Roberts of the London School of Health and Tropical Medicine. Science has proved that three ways to improve well being are access to green spaces, increased physical activity and human interaction.’
The Old Vic New Voices team took the idea of human interaction and threaded this right through the process of making Epidemic, as well as into the themes in the musical that is the product of that process. People who would never otherwise have met came together to work towards a shared goal.
There’s a bit more about what went into the making of Epidemic, on the Wellcome Trust’s blog.