New musical 'For Tonight' will hold a staged concert for one night only at the Adelphi Theatre on the 5th September. We took the opportunity to speak to playwright, performer and award-winning poet Raine Geoghegan who is cultural script consultant on this new West-End musical to tell us more.
Q) Tell us about how you came to be involved with For Tonight?
The producer, Blair Russell contacted me via LinkedIn. We had a zoom call and Blair gave me the rundown on the musical. I loved the premise of the story and the fact that it was based on true life and of course especially because it was featuring both Romany and Welsh cultures. This is how I became the creative and cultural consultant.
Q) Tell us about how your collaboration works with the writers?
Initially I was asked to read the script and to comment on both the language and cultural aspects of it. I did this and then went on to edit and translate portions of the dialogue for the gypsy scenes and send it back to Spencer and Shenelle, the main writers, and they would read my edits and discuss any questions with me. This process worked brilliantly, and I enjoyed it. I felt part of the team. I have been able to voice my concerns over certain points in the script and be heard, it’s been fairly organic and now we have a script that reflects the Romany people in a truthful way. It's wonderful to have both Romani and Welsh heritage.
Q) How does For Tonight’s storyline resonate with you?
So, I am Romanichal, English Romany and was born in the Welsh Valleys. For Tonight is set in North Wales, so quite a distance from the Welsh Valleys, but the Romany people travelled all over Wales and the languages are very similar. Some words are exactly the same and others vary. The story resonated with me because it reminded me of the time that my Granny and Grandfather moved out of their vardo (Gypsy wagon) into a small house and began to integrate with the gadjes (non-gypsy). It wasn't always easy but by the time I was born, my family were settled and content in their community. My Granny was a flower seller and knew practically everyone in the village.
Q) Both cultures are steeped in lyrical storytelling, rhythm and song. How do you think they work together in a musical?
This musical is really like no other. In both the Welsh and Romany culture, there is an abundance of story, song, music that touches the soul and nowhere is that more apparent than in 'For Tonight.' I love the balance of word, music and song, not forgetting the dance and movement. There are ancient cultures that carry voices from the past and there is something for everyone. I remember sitting in my Welsh Nanna's living room, and listening to my two uncles singing, they were members of the Bargoed Male Voice Choir and what a treat. Both the Welsh and Romani numbers are beautiful, my favourite is 'Oke Romano Chiricklo' - it is said that when you hear the wagtail, you will see a Gypsy. The cast are brilliant and hugely talented, they come from various backgrounds and are so well suited to the roles that they play. I am looking forward to being in the room with them during the forthcoming rehearsals.
Q) What are some elements of Romani culture that are distinct from other cultures in Wales and the UK?
The Romany culture originated in India in the early 10th century, there was a mass exodus of Indian Gypsies and they travelled to various parts of the world bringing with them the language and rituals. We are reminded of our connection to India through language and culture, many Romani words are similar to Hindi and Sanskrit. Another striking parallel is the burning of the vardos and possessions after someone has died, this originated in India, although they actually burned the body as well. Even in this day and age, there is the sitting up all night when someone dies and often there will be singing and talking, as well as eating and drinking. There is another aspect of Romani culture which is often not appreciated by Gadjes and that is something called mokkadi. It is about cleanliness and hygiene and there are all sorts of rules associated with it. For example, in the vardos, you would have different bowls for washing the body, for cleaning vegetables and for general cleaning.
Q) Romani peoples have withstood cruelty, racism and oppression, do you think attitudes are changing?
Yes, attitudes are changing but very slowly. It also depends on which country. For example, the Romany people in Romania are still dealing with oppression and intense cruelty, while in Ukraine, they have been treated very poorly by the government throughout the conflict. Here in the UK there is still racism, it has become part of the fabric of society and I have witnessed it. There has been a surge of Romany initiatives, more young people are attending university and there is greater opportunity for our community to do well and be empowered. Over the last four years, since I wrote my book, I have noticed the interest in my culture and language soar.
Q) What do you hope audiences will take away from this musical in terms of their understanding of Romani people and their culture?
I hope that this musical will highlight the negativity and racism of the non-Roma community as well as illustrating the harmony that can result in two cultures coming together. There is so much beauty in this musical and I applaud both Spencer and Shennelle for the incredible work they have done on bringing this story to life.
Q) You’ve also worked as a poet, writer, and performer can you tell us a little bit about your other artistic endeavours?
Prior to writing I was an actress, dancer and theatre director but illness and disability put an end to that, I’m now an award-winning poet, performer and writer. I give performances here in the UK and in Ireland. I also had the great fortune of performing in Sydney, Australia earlier this year. It’s interesting that I made my acting debut in the Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre in the 70's when I was fifteen. The play was called ‘Brussels’ and was directed by Jonathon Hales, who went onto went onto co-direct a couple of Star War films. Albert Finney came to see the play, 'Brussels' based on boy scouts and apparently he liked my performance. Now I'm in the West End in an entirely different capacity which I find very exciting. I’d like to work on more scripts and write more plays. I’ll put that out into the universe and see what happens.
For Tonight, a staged concert will be at the Adelphi Theatre on the 5 September. For more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.
Written by Vicky (@_adventuresintheatreland)