The Creation Of LIFT: A New Musical
Craig Adams and Ian Watson
Writing this blog about how we wrote LIFT is becoming more difficult than writing the show itself. The challenge has been trying to explain what the show is about. LIFT doesn't have a clear 'boy meets girl' plot. It's about emotions and how strange we are as human beings I suppose, and how the LIFT - the setting for the show - becomes a metaphor for the unspoken feelings the characters keep locked inside.
So from the very beginning of this process the show has been about people and how we cope in different or similar ways to the same situation. Therefore everything that happens in the show is centred round the characters and LIFT was born from them.
The original idea started whilst I [Craig] was training to be an actor. We talked about devising a musical loosely based on the concept of interconnecting characters and setting these 'mis-fits' - as they became known - in some kind of confined space. Inanimate objects had always
obsessed me and how they can witness so much life - a bed, a hotel room ... a LIFT!
Thus the very first incarnation was born. (Original Working Title "One Minute In A Lift!") This led to a one-off performance that was received well - the idea being more interesting than the content. After this I pursued the possibilities that this project could offer. I made loose
character sketches, knowing all the time that setting a show entirely in an unchanging, confined space would be dependent on interesting characters that told unique stories.
The lift in question became Covent Garden tube station lift quite quickly. I embraced the fact that it was a tube station lift, rather than an office or department store lift, because it's about the travelling, being in that state of flux, having not yet arrived. This is what excited me about the characters and how it affected their state of mind. They find themselves
constantly in transit, unresolved in one way or another.
Originally the show followed a slightly obvious 'six degrees of separation' idea, allowing the characters to explain their stories through flashbacks and dreams that overlapped.
Once Ian was onboard it seemed more interesting to us both to pin point a central character that could link everyone. But without him/her being a narrator what kind of involvement could they have?
It was at this stage that Perfect Pitch got involved and helped us develop these early ideas. They offered us a slot in their annual West End showcase of new writing and we had to edit the show down to a forty-five minute version. We didn't want it to be 'the best bits', so we
devised from what we had a mini version of the show, which made us brutally cut two of the ten original characters. This was largely due to under-development and complexity of character. Sadly the first to go was a religious but deluded psychiatrist, beyond her own help, who had fallen in love with a 'Jesus look-a-like' barista. There was also a female cellist - the Busker's estranged wife, who writes the letter that now lies at the heart of this particular minute of reality. First came a workshop of the edited version, which then offered us time for re-writes, and then the showcase at the Trafalgar Studios in London.
This was invaluable development time allowing us to see the piece on its feet and to steer the show in a particular direction. This gave us the answers we were looking for. Suddenly it felt right that the Busker might be our version of a narrator, and exactly what the show was lacking, guiding the audience through these imagined life stories without leading them by the nose or even speaking directly to them, or anyone else. He shows us his ideas of these strangers less obviously, through the songs he writes about them - the characters he sees everyday in the lift. Making him a songwriter - an artist full of angst - desperately trying to
find himself through the songs he writes that nobody hears, he could manipulate these characters into telling his story rather than telling their own - art inspiring life inspiring art!
His music, his lyrics and even his own thoughts are, like him, "in this lift, going nowhere." The words and melodies bounce back at him through the characters and their own, imagined realities.
What came out of hours of discussion and draft after draft was a story that is one character's - the Busker's - but equally could be every other character's too.
Eventually the theme of how we communicate in modern life by never really communicating at all, and how we would rather build imaginary lives around us that simply 'say how we feel' became inextricably linked with the idea of repetition and reprise from altered perspectives. Soon the need for exposition and traditional narratives were rendered away from the heart of the show and it became its own little unapologetic story - in a lift!
Our characters and our Busker's dreams are all contained in an unforgiving and inescapable steel box with 'no armour, and no protection'.
'We all speak the same words, live the same stories and dream the same dreams ...'
We all have the ability to communicate, to learn and to love and yet we share the most intimate spaces in lifts, on trains and in life as if we're strangers who share nothing. This is what the show tries to explore.
LIFT, starring Julie Atherton, opens at the Soho Theatre on 30th January.