Previous productions of Emma Rice’s version of BRIEF ENCOUNTER have included Noël Coward songs blended with other period classics. For the first time, this production uses original Coward songs throughout

During rehearsals, Musical Supervisor/Orchestrator/MD Matthew Malone discussed the practicalities of putting a live jazz band on stage, and his approach to working with those revered, familiar tunes.

In layman’s terms, how would you describe your job?

I’m the Music Supervisor for the show, but on this job I’m also the Musical Director. As Music Supervisor, I’m basically responsible for taking the music – in this case, Noël Coward’s songs – and working with the director to arrange that music into a state that’s reflective of their artistic vision. I then take that music in its song form and teach that to the cast, so they know the melodies and are ready to sing them. Then I arrange and orchestrate that music for our band.

Essentially, it’s musically facilitating [Director] Sarah Frankcom’s vision and overseeing all musical aspects of the show, whether that’s the songs or underscore, or even musical elements where there might be sound design in there. I work quite closely with Russell [Ditchfield], our Sound Designer, to make sure that those two marry up.

The musical direction side of things is kind of part of the same job, but more specifically it’s teaching the songs to the band, going through the music with them and then playing with the band in the shows.

Bringing a live four-piece jazz band on stage would seem to be quite a challenge.

What I needed from the band for this was people who were jazzers, but who were aware of the theatre medium and what that can entail. Whilst the score and the arrangements for this particular production are heavily rooted in jazz, it’s not crazy, free jazz. It’s sort of standard, easy listening jazz. With the rest of the score, the band is responsible for all of the underscoring and incidental music and in one particular instance that’s not jazz at all, it’s very avant-garde. What I needed for the players was jazzers who were willing to push the envelope and maybe do some stuff that was a bit unconventional.

Presumably the particular approach you’re taking with the music is born out of conversations you’ve had with Sarah [Frankcom], so it’s designed to reflect and emphasise the overall tone of the production?

Absolutely. When we were talking about what we wanted to do with it, we thought it would be exciting to treat his music in a way which hadn’t been done in this adaptation before, treating the music as jazz standards. Then, within that, whenever the songs are performed by characters in the show - though not always - it’s like the actor playing whichever character becomes a cabaret singer. So, the band are on stage all the time and we’re part of the cafe in the train station, but whenever someone sings, you’re watching that actor performing the song in a jazz bar. I don’t think that’s really been done before.

The full interview between author Andy Murray and Matthew Malone, along with interviews with Director Sarah Frankcom and Designer Rose Revitt can be found in the BRIEF ENCOUNTER Programme.
Get your programme along with tickets for BRIEF ENCOUNTER here.