FIRST LOOK AT… QUENTIN DENTIN
Henry Carpenter and Tom Crowley in conversation
Tristan Bates Theatre,
Tuesday 20th June – Saturday 29th July
As part of its new commitment to developing original musical theatre, the tiny theatre attached to the Actors’ Centre in London’s Covent Garden launches its second 6-week run of a new British musical this season. Hard on the heels of Bateman and Conley’s ‘The Sorrows of Satan’, we are shortly to see the sixth (or is it the seventh?) incarnation of a work that has been growing and growing since it appeared as scarcely more than a brief student entertainment at the Rag Factory a few years ago. Almost entirely the work of Henry Carpenter (also frontman of various rock groups, like ‘Jimmy Getaway’ and now ‘Jelly’), this is a work born of passion and drive and an irrepressible belief that he has a statement to make.
His collaborator from the outset and all the way through has been his King’s College, London, pal, producer Hannah Elsy. Together, they have been with ‘Quentin’ through the National Theatre Studio, Rich Mix via IdeasTap, the International Youth Arts Festival in Kingston-upon-Thames, the Edinburgh Fringe, and Above the Arts in the West End. At each step along the way (I’ve seen about half of them), the show has grown as a project, as indeed the team have grown in experience, confidence, and savoir-faire. Now, they join forces with a new director, Adam Lenson, making a quick return to this address after ‘Sorrows’. And, crucially, a brand new writing partner is found in the co-author of the book, Tom Crowley. Some cast and band members will be coming back to reprise work done in earlier manifestations of what is ‘Quentin’, and it is going to be fascinating to see how this new version takes them all forward with their respective careers, and with the show.
To get some background on all this, I recently met Henry and Tom in the café of the Actors’ Centre, to discuss their new working relationship and hear about the development of the show. Hannah called by first of all, to take the photograph accompanying this article, and to deliver another batch of the latest ‘image’ of the show: its cool poster of blue sky and an artwork of bright neon lettering. The look is suggestive of the new sophistication the show reflects, and is a far cry from the original glitter-and-glue graffito that Elsy snapped on her bathroom wall. After getting the image, she shoots off to do some more producer things and we are left to chat.
I want to know what Tom’s function has been on the show. I mean, I’d heard he was coming in on it as a ‘dramaturg’, and I’ve prepared to broach that topic, but right away it’s made clear that – as it says on the poster – he is recognised as co-author. He outlines the writing process, which began with giving a few notes to Henry and Hannah, getting notes back on those, responding to them with more ideas, and then the whole thing snowballing till he was taking equal billing with Henry’s work on the book. This is exciting news: his deft adaptation of Richard O’Brien’s ‘Shock Treatment’ is a marvel of clarity and concision and – one day – we may get to see more of it (lucky few who grabbed the initial King’s Head Theatre just over two years ago). To find that talent now wedded to the continuing growth and expansion of the QD story is thrilling in itself. As ever, he is genial and relaxed and fairly taciturn about the actual details. In a way, though, given the ‘pop’ milieu the show has claimed as its own, their very shyness in interview is entirely appropriate.
So, we take another tack. I know about Tom’s work running ‘The Night’ – a movable feast of stand-up, improv and song that has now found glamorous lodgings at Café Zedel (thank you – again – James Albrecht); I’ve seen his curation of an entire room for a fortnight at last year’s Vaults Festival (40 new works made it in and out of there in that window); and I’ve been to an early sharing of some of his musical adaptation of Corman’s ‘Bucket of Blood’, with songs by ‘Shock Treatment’ MD, Alex Beetschen. We don’t even get around to talking about what ‘Wooden Overcoats’ (another of his many shared projects) is doing. It is genuinely awesome how much he manages to get done. Henry is also working on other things, and with other people; he tells me about some of those ventures, including a long-standing relationship with Paul Garred formerly of The Kooks – sadly, I can’t get to the outing of his group ‘Jelly’ on Blackstock Road that night, but he knows my heart will be willing it on. In between times, he’s written another seven songs for the show, and – if for no other reason – then those will be plenty good as an impulse for anyone who wants a fun, frivolous night out.
Although they nod emphatically at the soubriquet I think up for this ‘concept’, ‘The DJ Who Fell To Earth’, (Henry’s idolisation of Bowie is well established), and although I am told the ‘questions’ Tom came with and also get to hear a fair few of the answers they came up with, so imaginatively, so cleverly (not least: Where did the DJ fall FROM?), professional discretion forbids them from giving any more of the game away. And I’m sure I couldn’t possibly comment on that. But trust me. Trust them. It’s going to be fun.
The Quentin Dentin Show runs from 29 June to 29 July 2017 at Tristan Bates Theatre