A collaboration with Irish playwright and lyricist Brian McAvera of the life of Hawley Harvey Crippen. A composing residency, organised by Brian McAvera, at Stranmillis College, Belfast, in May 2008 led to this stage musical collaboration between Stephen and Brian, resulting in this sungthrough fantasia. It was showcased at Trafalgar Studios April 2010.
Brian McAvera writes:
"This musical started when Stephen Daltry sent me a postcard. He was in digs, in York, and he had been reading Michael Billington’s Book of Theatrical Facts which he had found in the lodging house. The entry on Nat Day struck him. Day had been the longest serving theatrical agent in the UK, and his office was in Albion House, just off Oxford Street, which also happened to contain the office of one Dr. Crippen. As Stephen had anticipated, this juxtaposition intrigued me……. When we discussed Crippen, and the musical form it might take, it seemed to us that Music Hall was a crucial element (Mrs Crippen being a music hall artiste employed by the theatrical impresario Nat Day), as was the musical language of early cinema. Both of these elements, tied in of course to Stephen’s natural instincts as a composer, related very much to the manner in which I wished to write the piece. Being non-naturalistic by temperament, and thus banishing the ‘fourth wall’ in favour of a direct relationship to and with the audience, the participatory element of Music Hall and early cinema came into its own. Once we had established that our ‘take’ on Crippen, the most famous English murderer of all time – was that he was innocent, it was important to put the audience, gradually, in the position of the Twelve Good Men and True who convicted him. Yes, we wanted hummable tunes, and the audience singing along, but we also wanted to involve them emotionally, and wanted to force them to contemplate the horror of themselves condemning an innocent man All of this quite naturally suggested a staging which was spare but suggestive; a black box , the rear of which is divided into two by a see-through row of the steel bars of a jail, in which a core of actors, as well as playing their parts, created the stage imagery quite physically. As far as possible, everything should be physicalised by the actors. The piece was firs workshopped and performed at Studio 2 of the Trafalgar Studios in 2010 but has then been substantially revised."
SYNOPSIS: Dr Crippen has gone down in British history as one of the most notorious murderers of all time. But what if, as recent DNA evidence indicates, he was innocent, and was framed by the police who were desperate for a good result in the wake of the Jack the Ripper murders? As is the way of real life (stranger than fiction) Dr Crippen worked in the same building as the famous theatrical impresario of the music-hall, Nat Day, and Crippen's wife, Belle, became one of his singer-performers. In our story, Nat is looking back on his failed attempts to produce the greatest musical ever written: Crippen! As he does so, this sung-through musical fantasia intercuts the stories and memories of those who became involved.There is the love story between Crippen and his secretary Ethel, when Crippen realises that his wife, Belle, no longer loves him and seeks out other men. There is the police investigation led by Inspector Dew who is convinced that Crippen is guilty but can't find the evidence. There is the story of Crippen's wife Belle Elmore, a failed opera singer from America, whose abortion at the hands of Crippen resulted in her being unable to have children. And there are also the stories of the pathologist who gave evidence against Crippen ; and the Ship's Captain who spotted them on board his liner, the Montrose, and signalled for the police. All of these testimonies are seen within the context of a Trial in which Crippen pleads his innocence but is hung for his pains. We want the audience to take a journey in which they invest in the characters and their relationships, sympathise with Crippen and his mistress, and realise that Justice is not always necessarily right. This is not a biographical musical in which the narrative arc is unfurled in chronological order: rather it is an emotional journey in which the characters engage directly with the audience - it has a love story at its heart - and in which their expectation as to who Crippen is, and of what he supposedly did, are confounded.
2) FULL CHARACTER LIST
1) Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen: American homeopath, eye specialist and medicine dispenser. Shared offices at Albion House, Oxford Street with agent Nat Day.
2) Crippen’s wife, Cora Turner, aka Belle Elmore: Dr Crippen’s flirtatious wife, who has ambitions to become an opera singer.
3) Crippen’s mistress Ethel le Neve : A young typist who met Dr Crippen in 1903 and became his mistress.
4) Nat Day, theatrical impresario: The theatre agent with an eye on making a fast buck.
5) Inspector Dew: Investigator of the murder at No 39 Hilldrop Crescent; a man under pressure to get a conviction, but whose character is not altogether proper.
6) The Ship’s Captain: . Captain Henry Kendall of the ship ‘The Montrose’. Strong, upright, very proud of his apprehending Dr Crippen. Dines out on the story for years afterwards.
7) Mrs Dew.: Saucy wife of Inspector Dew. Dotes on her husband.
8) The Pathologist; She examines the remains of Belle Elmore. ‘Anatomy is a pleasure for me; dissection the finest art.’
9) The Hangman: He hangs Crippen at Pentonville Prison on 23rd November 1910. A man ‘dry as a stick’ with no imagination, ‘which is fortunate for me’.
10) Brucie Miller: One of Belle’s ‘gentlemen’. Brucie is a music hall artiste who Belle had an affair with.
11) Mr Nash: A lawyer, and another client of Belle’s.
12) Mr Martinelli: Another client of Belle’s.
13) The Lodger : at 39 Hilldrop Crescent who Belle had an affair with.
Female roles include Ethel le Neve, Belle Elmore, Mrs Dew, The Pathologist, and chorus roles throughout the different scenes - in the ship scene, the trial jury chorus, the police investigation at 39 Hilldrop Crescent.