Heather – Sunday in the Park with George

I was fortunate enough to join the 2017 company of the National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT) to take part in a production of Sondheim & Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George, directed by Hannah Chissick, which ran for six performances at The Other Palace in London’s West End and received five-star reviews.

I have always been very interested in musical theatre, so it was very exciting to have an opportunity to work with professionals in a London theatre. 

Sunday in the Park with George is one of my favourite musicals: it is modelled on Georges Seurat’s pointillist artwork A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and the production explores the different characters in the painting and the life of the artist. The first act is set is 1884 Paris in the lifetime of Georges Seurat, whereas the second propels us to 1980s New York, where Seurat’s great-grandson is experiencing similar troubles in his artistic and social worlds. It is a very challenging work, both musically and thematically, exploring the tensions of love, art and the nature of the human condition.

Sondheim’s music is very challenging, often written to mimic speech with many overlapping parts. I played one of the characters in the painting during Act 1 and the photographer at an art gallery in New York in 1980s Act 2, two very different roles straddling a time frame of 100 years. This allowed me to develop two completely different idioms: stillness and etiquette in the painting for the spine-tingling Act 1 finale of Sunday, and exuberance and sharp choreographed movements for the 17-part sequence of Putting it Together in the second act.

We rehearsed for 12 hours a day for two weeks, refining the score to the last detail and carefully blocking the complex interactions. Singing and perfecting this challenging music with such a talented company was an honour; I will never forget the intensity of the numbers with the full company, complete with incredible lighting, clever choreography, a soaring chamber orchestra and beautiful period costumes.

The musical contained so much depth that I decided to write my Part II music dissertation on Sondheim’s treatment of pointillism in relation to the music of the production. Working in such detail on the show gave me a new insight into the intricacies of Sondheim’s writing, and I feel lucky to have been able to take part in such a rarely performed and beautiful work. I am hugely grateful for the support I received from the Hockley and Burnaby funds at Emmanuel in helping me take advantage of this fantastic once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.