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Napoleon Disrobed: Creating the Sound Design

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Over the next few weeks in the build up to the opening of Napoleon Disrobed at Theatre Royal Plymouth, we will be sharing our rehearsal diary written by different members of the company… stay tuned to be amongst the first to hear how Napoleon Disrobed is shaping up!

I’ve worked on a variety of shows with the Idiots, including Get Happy for kids, The Ghost Train, which featured an orchestra of lawnmowers and other random props, Every last Trick, a collaboration with Spymonkey and the Simon Armitage penned musical, I am Thomas. Napoleon is my first time devising with Kathryn directing and Paul onstage, which is very exciting.

I like to spend as much time as I can in rehearsals, playing with the rest of the company. This allows the soundtrack to become much more integrated into the piece. I join in on the improvisations by playing different sorts of music and sound effects, designed to work out what might work in the sound world. It’s a lot of fun and usually very funny. I always strive to reinforce what’s happening onstage, or provoke ideas and a change of direction by throwing in left-field sounds or music choices. At the moment there is an obvious music track included, because we couldn’t resist…

I hope the sound will be important to the piece, as I am creating the soundtrack alongside the rest of the material. Kathryn and I had several meetings about the music before we started rehearsing, looking at what sort of sounds/music might give us Napoleon’s emotional world. An obvious starting point was trumpet music. We also listened to lots of contemporary sax music and on a different note, silent film music. We used a couple of Chaplin films as reference for the use of music.

In the early stages I’m mostly trying to find a sound/music palette which work for the style of worlds we inhabit.

The rehearsal room has been a very collaborative space with a relaxed atmosphere, allowing everyone to contribute in their own ways. It’s still intense though! For me it was interesting to witness a fairly complicated, heady discussion about the Waterloo scene be eventually transformed into a really creative method of telling that story.

Finding the music for Paul’s own funeral improvisation (yep!), was morbid fun…Since I know something of Paul’s music tastes, picking opposite style of music was much more amusing. Not sure I won that battle though, we’ll have to wait and see what makes the cut. Another improv came with Kathryn’s provocation, “Napoleon’s body parts”. This resulted in an anarchic sequence involving a Hollywood producer, 3 crazy films, and a lot of bizarre sound effects and music. Highly entertaining!

Napoleon Disrobed plays at Theatre Royal Plymouth from 25 January – 10 February 2018. Tickets are available now

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