Paper Hearts (A High-Street Musical): An interview with writer and composer Liam O’Rafferty
Following a sell-out show at Waterloo East Theatre and rave reviews at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Liam O’Rafferty’s debut musical Paper Hearts transfers to Upstairs at the Gatehouse this Spring, before embarking on a tour to Germany in the summer. Set in an independent high-street bookshop, this highly uplifting new British musical is about passion and finding your place in the world – a world amongst books.
Bringing together the vision of writer Liam O’Rafferty with award-winning set and costume designer and scenographer Anna Driftmier, musical director Daniel Jarvis and Tania Azevedo, the director behind the 2012 Scottish Daily Mail Drama Award winner The Picture House, Paper Hearts is an enchanting musical tour de force.
What was it like taking your first work to the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
Scary. We were lucky enough to get into one of the top four venues: Underbelly. But when it all settled down it was great fun.
What inspired the original idea behind Paper Hearts?
Sitting in a theatre in Swindon and imagining the whole stage as a bookshop, with sliding ladders and eccentric customers and staff.
Why did you choose to crowdfund to finance some of the musical? Would you use crowdfunding in the future for another work?
Two reasons: to raise its profile and raise cash. Crowdfunding can be great if you get it right and don’t aim too high, otherwise your dreams can be destroyed. If I can help it I would rather use another avenue for future projects.
How did you go about putting your own spin on the traditional boy meets girl love story?
There are two different worlds in Paper Hearts, one set in 1940s Russia and the other in the present day. Two relationships play out in both, the real world that Atticus, the protagonist, lives and the other that he has created. There’s a lot of fun and heartache in these entwined stories.
How has it been working with director Tania Azevedo?
To begin with it was hard, she didn’t make it easy for me. But Tania has great vision and pretty much everything she says is right. All I needed to do was listen.
Why did you choose to set Atticus’s novel in Stalinist Russia? Is that a period of history that particularly interests you?
I wanted Atticus’s book to be like an epic classic – and Stalin’s Russia really suited that. I do love that period; the hardship and passion, and the music! It’s great to have the contrast of the different styles between both worlds.
How did you and the team go about portraying the two different parallel worlds of the story?
Tania and the team looked closely at Russian culture in that period, their dress and the way they behaved. Our costume designer Anna worked wonders with both worlds. We have scenes that are blended; for example, a Russian barman will become a Soho barman just by removing his coat and changing his accent.
Who are your personal and professional inspirations?
My dad, he was always behind me, encouraging my music. I love Jason Robert Brown’s work, he has re-shaped musicals and made them accessible and interesting again.
How do you think the play will be received on the international circuit?
At the Edinburgh Fringe the Americans went mad for it, so I’m hoping that it will be infectious all over.
What will you be working on next after this first big success?
I would like to do a straight play, set in one room with a murderous twist. I’m a big fan of Hitchcock, that’s why the bookshop owner in Paper Hearts is called Norman Bates.
Paper Hearts is at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate, from 2nd until 20th May 2017, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch the showreel for Paper Hearts here: