Her latest show with The Little Red Company, 'Lady Beatle' pays triumphant tribute to none other than The Beatles in the third pop culture cabaret of the company's trilogy.
Previously praising Miley Cyrus in 'Wrecking Ball' and Adele in 'Rumour Has It', Naomi is going back in time even further to celebrate some of the world's most treasured songs, by an even more treasured group. Here, she answers some questions about the performance.
Where did the inspiration for 'Lady Beatle' come from?
To be honest, as with all of our pop culture cabarets, the idea started over a few gin and tonics, a superb songbook and a great title! This initial idea came to us a couple of years ago now, and the enigma of our ‘Lady Beatle’ has stayed with us. As a result, we knew hers was a story we had to explore further. In our early research for the project, we were fascinated to learn the real stories behind the music and were introduced to so many real life women who inspired some of The Beatles’ most iconic songs. 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds', for example, was inspired by John Lennon’s son’s childhood best friend – a young girl called Lucy O'Donnell with whom Julian went to nursery school in Surrey in 1966. At five years old, Julian had drawn a picture of his classmate and took it home to John, explaining: “It’s Lucy in the sky with diamonds.” On learning this, we wanted to know more about Lucy – who she was and where she ended up all these years later. Tragically, Lucy O’Donnell died of a Lupus-related illness in 2009, aged 46. Similarly, The Beatles’ hit song 'She’s Leaving Home' from the 'Sgt Pepper’s' album was inspired by a real-life teenage runaway: 17-year-old Melanie Coe, who made the front page of the Daily Mirror after fleeing her family’s home as she’d fallen pregnant and feared retribution from her very conservative parents. Coe was found 10 days later, returned home and had an abortion. Coincidentally, Coe had actually met Paul McCartney three years earlier in 1963 when he chose her as the prize winner in a television dancing contest. As we began to unpack all these fascinating true stories, we soon realised that there exists this incredible collection of seemingly ordinary real-life women who will forever be part of an extraordinary legacy. Filtering these iconic songs through their personal stories and lenses returned some surprising, exciting ideas.
What are you hoping audiences take away and talk about once this show is over?
As with all of our shows, our main goal, quite simply, is to deliver a truly entertaining night at the theatre. We’re confident that 'Lady Beatle' will be enjoyed at multiple levels. There are some audiences whose biggest joy will no doubt be the world-class musicianship and dazzling original arrangements of their favourite Beatles songs, whereas others will get swept up in the quirky tale of our ‘Lady Beatle’. Who is she? What brings her here? Why is hers a story we need to hear? We’re excited and proud about the unexpected direction this work has taken throughout its development. It promises to be a show with great heart and charm, anchored by a brilliant team of artists and the greatest songbook of all time.
What's your favourite song to perform by The Beatles?
It’s impossible to choose just one! At the moment, I’m loving rocking out with the band to ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’: “It’s wonderful to be here / It’s certainly a thrill / You’re such a lovely audience / We’d like to take you home with us / We’d love to take you home” – and therein lies the reason any performer does what they do (regardless of what they tell you): it’s a chance to get laid.
This is one of a handful of your tribute shows ('Wrecking Ball' and 'Rumour Has It' being two others). What's so appealing about putting together and presenting a show like this?
As previously mentioned, our primary goal is to deliver a genuinely entertaining night out, and appealing in particular to those who mightn’t ordinarily go to the theatre. By anchoring our works in original interpretations of known songbooks, it provides another ‘in’ for new audiences to give the theatre a go, thus hopefully building more theatre loyalists for the future.
Where does all the planning begin in terms of putting together a setlist and constructing the show around it?
There are two main drivers for all of our works: music and research. Unpacking the ‘musical voice’ of each work is vital, so we’ll generally start by getting into a rehearsal room with the full band as early as possible simply to play and experiment with material. Adam and I will bring to the table some initial musical ideas that we think could potentially work – be it to drive narrative development, character, or simply as entertainment – and the band is also very generous with sharing their own ideas. Because we’ve been working together for many years across multiple projects, the individual band members are very much our equal co-creators on the work. Musical reinterpretation is key; we always look to present known and loved material in a new light. While the musical world is unfolding, Adam and I will be poring over relevant source material: articles, videos, biographies, research papers, history books, fan sites, newspaper clippings, podcasts – you name it. Just last week I express-shipped a graphic novel called 'The Fifth Beatle' that we chanced upon online. Pearls of wisdom and inspiration come from the most curious places. One of the most exciting things about developing a brand new work is that the possibilities are limitless. We’ve lost count of the number of times we think we’ve landed on the idea, only to find another ‘golden thread’ that unravels something different completely. Our fundamental rule is that no options are off the table. Even if we land on something we’re confident might be it, we acknowledge that it’s an option rather than the only option. Of course there comes a time when you have to commit to one story arch and trust in the hours of research and experimentation that it’s the best option in that moment.
You've got quite the team behind you that make the show what it is! How is it working with all of them?
We always say that it takes an army to deliver a ‘one woman show’ to the stage and we’ve assembled our absolute dream team for 'Lady Beatle'. We pride ourselves on working with creatives at the top of their game, and this is true of the full team – from our brilliant musicians through to our lighting, sound and costume designers. They’re very much our co-creators in the work, bringing to the table world-class talent and incalculable years of shared experience right across the globe. Our shows are as much them as they are me and Adam.
Why does 'Lady Beatle' stand out from your other tribute shows?
'Rumour Has It' and 'Wrecking Ball' were both written about the biggest name in music at that particular time: Adele and Miley Cyrus respectively. 'Lady Beatle', though, is inspired by the greatest music act of all time. The other significant difference with 'Lady Beatle' is that I don’t assume the persona of any of the Fab Four like I do in 'Rumour Has It' and 'Wrecking Ball'. Instead, our ‘Lady Beatle’ is someone we’ve dreamed up – an obsessive fan, a close ally perhaps, or maybe something different entirely.
Any artists you'd like to do a tribute show of next?
Since creating 'Rumour Has It' back in 2012, we’ve always said we’d create a trilogy of pop culture cabarets, and 'Lady Beatle' completes our set. We’ve toyed with other ideas over the years, including the cheekily titled 'Celine on Me: The Celine Dion and On and On Story' but there’s no way I’m game to take on the Celine songbook!
Sell the show to us with a Beatles song title.
'Do You Want To Know A Secret?' from The Beatles’ 1963 album 'Please Please Me'.
'Lady Beatle' Tour Dates25 May-3 June – La Boite Theatre (Brisbane)
9-11 June – Adelaide Festival Centre