True grit: London musical aims for Swede success

True grit: London musical aims for Swede success
Photos: Peter Knutson
A villain standing in front of a Union Jack has been glowering at Stockholmers from billboards across the city in recent weeks. Kathleen Harman looks at how a hard-edged British musical is looking for success in Sweden.

I like my villains to be butch, seductive men who positively exude knicker-removing pheromones. I want to be rooting for the bad guy and hoping that that the boring old goodie comes to a sticky end so that I can go running off with Mr Baddie and help mastermind even more audacious and evil plots, until he dumps me for a younger, more exotic Eastern European model with much smaller, less reinforced knickers than the ones I wear.

Those of you living in Stockholm may well have seen such a villain glowering in front of a Union Jack, gracing the posters for ‘London – The Musical’ due to open at the beginning of February. The character is called ‘Warrior’, played by Anders Ekborg, and I have been told that he is a nasty, but very attractive piece of work, who makes good people do bad things. And I’m not talking about reckless shoe shopping incursions which I’m sure a more camp villain would be spurring the sweet and innocent to do.

It would appear that musical theatre can be a whole lot edgier than my preconceived notion of saccharine goodie-goodies prancing around, or indeed roller skating around, in furry costumes. This production has a modern day story, which encompasses characters ranging from morally compromised City bankers through to charity workers, with Machiavellian agitators like the aforementioned ’Warrior’ preying upon the fears of desperate immigrants. In the end, good does conquer evil, but only sort of, and there is the theme of true but mainly unrequited love interwoven in the plot.

The titular London is a real, gritty, multifaceted, multicultural London as opposed to a touristy pastiche – no double decker buses, no black cabs, no Americans with dogdy accents playing cheery cockney chimney sweeps.

“The cast is very good looking and sexy and the whole production has a raw, urban feel to it,” says Andrew Pattie, the show’s British lyricist and producer.

“The choreography is modern and stylized and the scenery includes an eighteen metre wide backdrop that we project split screen video footage onto. It will be an entirely different theatre-going experience and absolutely stunning to look at.”

The show has been a long time evolving – Pattie wrote the first song lyrics back in 2001. Needing a composer, he struck up a working relationship with Stockholm-based David Hynes, after which Pattie found himself collaborating more and more with other Stockholmers – this is a a European hub for music production, after all.

There followed a ’beta’ run of the show back in 2006 at a small theatre on Södermalm, but since then the script and music has been considerably reworked, ready to pack the 1400 seat auditorium of the Filadelfiakyrka in central Stockholm for its run until mid March.

Musical theatre in Europe commands big money if you get it right. The Society of London Theatre announced a record breaking £400 million ($780 million) spent during 2006 in the West End alone. Add in the fact that there around five hundred and fifty thousand European venues performing amateur musicals on an annual basis, all paying royalties, and you’d have to have the brains of Dorothy’s Scarecrow not to see the possibilities.

On top of this, the sale of musical theatre-based media accounts for six percent of the total world entertainment spend so it is no wonder that Andrew Pattie and his British financial backers are hoping for a winner.

Sweden is a good test market for many products, ‘London -The Musical’ included. Both the script and the songs have now been translated into Swedish and with a well known cast of home grown performers such as Anders Ekborg, Malin Berghagen and Jakob Stadell, Pattie is hopeful of a positive reception by the Swedish public. The next logical step would be to take the show to Germany, followed by a UK tour, with Andrew Pattie’s ambition to have songs from the production performed at the London Olympics in 2012.

And he might just be heading in the right direction. The worldwide success of the ‘Bourne’ films show that the cinema -going public is ready to eschew European glamour for grittiness. Even the rather effete role of James Bond has been given a kind of brutishly virile overhaul by the casting of ‘tasty geezer’ anti-hero, Daniel Craig. With musicals still residing largely in the camp ‘camp’, as it were, it could be that theatre audiences are ready for a change too.

London the Musical premieres at Filadelfiakyrkan, Rörstrandsgatan, Stockholm, on February 1st.

More information and tickets:

Kathleen Harman