BWW Interview: Vikki Stone Talks #ZoologicalSociety
We caught up with composer and comedian Vikki Stone to chat about the release of her concept album #ZoologicalSociety.
Tell us a bit about #ZoologicalSociety.
Well, it's a musical that's been written for stage but what's coming out on 27 March is a concept album.
I was commissioned nearly two years ago and was given a blank canvas to make something that started online first. So it was a digital eleven song commission. I wanted to talk about the world and the way I see things but I felt like if I put it in the mouths and minds of animals it might make it funny.
Who is featured on it?
Cast wise we have Jason Manford and Trevor Dion Nicholas playing monkeys. Jason Manford plays a depressed monkey called Alan and Trevor plays a monkey called Englebert who is really annoying and keeps trying to tell Alan to cheer up. But that's not how depression works, is it? That was one of the topics I wanted to shine a light on.
Lucie Jones plays a penguin who has just been left by her partner, he's gone missing and she's just laid an egg. So she's facing life as a single mother and is really nervous about what that's going to entail. We've got two gossiping giraffes played by Natasha Barnes and me. If I can't cast myself in my own musical, when can I cast myself?
Sharon D Clarke plays a murderous meerkat. The idea for this came about because I've done some research and obviously we think meerkats are super cute and we use them to sell car insurance and things. It turns out the dominant female meerkat murders the young of the other meerkats so that she's the only one in the troop than can have children. And that's quite heavy, isn't it? So she plays Adrestia, which means 'she who cannot be escaped'.
The pandas are played by Louise Dearman and Arthur Darvill. Pandas are only fertile for about 24 hours a year which is why it's so difficult for them to breed in captivity. They've only got this tiny window and because they don't see other pandas mating because its just the two of them in captivity, they don't know what to do. So zookeepers play them what is known as 'panda porn' so that when the window is open they know what they're doing. Also, the male panda is wildly out of proportion with the size of his body which is also why they struggle. So it makes for a funny song. And Tyrone Huntley sings the lion in "I Don't Know What You Want From Me".
Who did the casting for the album?
Is two years typical for a project like this?
The more people you have involved and the most institutions the longer it takes. Projects evolve and the idea was we were going to make loads of different videos in different styles but then we decided that might be quite messy. We decided that it would be much cleaner to be a studio album exquisitely recorded- and it is, its got the London Musical Theatre Orchestra, eight singers, nine principal singers. A huge number of people. It's taken a village worth of people to make this album.
Tim Wheatley has animated the song "Marvin" and it's beautiful, it's really, really lovely, and that's coming out at the same time as the album is coming out. It's taken me a year to write it and then once it was written the music has to be orchestrated and there's a lot of people making a lot of decisions. Once we'd decided to go ahead with the animated trailer, it took about a month and the penguin song took another month. It takes a lot of people a lot of time.
And there was going to be a launch concert as well?
It was meant to be on the 27th at the BEAM festival, but obviously that's all been cancelled. It was going to have a slightly different cast, so it was going to be sung by Natasha Barnes and Trevor Dion Nicholas, but we also had Charlie Baker, Jemima Rooper, Matt Willis from Busted, T'Shan Williams and Irvine Iqbal. It's a real shame.
Are there plans for a production?
Yes, the commission was to write a stage show so the first draft has been submitted. Obviously things are totally up in the air with production schedules in theatre right now but the plan was always that it would be a distance from the album anyway. It might be a year, it might be longer but it will be onstage.
And you're writing the Lyric Hammersmith panto this year?
All being well it's going to open in November. I've just finished my second draft of the script, which I'm really excited about. I can't say who the director is yet and we've been collaborating with a performer - which again I can't say who it is - but it's all very exciting! It's really cool, I like panto a lot. It's fun writing things down like someone getting a pie in the face. It just feels good to write that on paper and that be your job to write down the most ridiculous thing you can think of.
I've played Abanazar twice and I'm writing Abanazar just now and its really hard not to write it in my own voice as I'm not going to be playing it. I don't want it to be something that feels like a different character because I know male panto baddies so well it feels impossible not to write in the ridiculous voice I do my male baddies in.
Have you specified a gender swap for the baddie role?
No, I have specified one somewhere else for a woman playing a man but not the baddie. I think its really important that if you're going to put the dame on and have a man playing a woman that we have the opposite equivalent. Let's put both onstage. There's no need not to, at all.
As the album is out free on streaming services, how can people show their support for it?
Well, they can literally buy it! It's on streaming but you can also buy it on Amazon if you want to have the physical files. It's not a physical album but you can buy it as a download. I've also got sheet music. On the Faber music store online, there are six songs that are published for download if people want to sing the songs. So you can buy the sheet music for £3 a song- a bargain!
#ZoologicalSociety is now available on streaming services and on digital download