Academic produces music for National Theatre play with cast of TV stars
20 December 2017
The work of a Christ Church academic is currently entertaining audiences at the National Theatre in London.
Professor Matthew Wright is the musical director for the smash hit Network, working on stage alongside Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston and Downtown Abbey’s Michelle Dockery.
His work for the critically acclaimed production shows how Christ Church academics are crossing the boundaries between academia and the UK’s cultural industries, making an impact on professional artistic practice.
Network is the world premiere adaption of the 1976 multi-Oscar winning film by Paddy Chayesky. It is about the struggles of a fictional television network, UBS, in a dystopian media landscape where opinion trumps facts.
It centres around the network’s anchor, Howard Beale, and the fallout on discovering he has only a fortnight left on air due to declining ratings. In his final broadcast he unravels live on screen. But when the ratings soar, the network seize on their newfound populist prophet, and Howard becomes the biggest thing on TV.
It has been adapted for the stage by playwright and screenwriter, Lee Hall, most famous for Billy Elliot, and is directed by renowned Belgian theatre director Ivo van Hove.
Matthew, Professor of Composition and Sonic Art in the School of Music and Performing Arts, has worked with the show’s composer, Eric Sleichim, for nearly ten years on other productions. But for Network Sleichim wanted an entirely electronic score, performed by a quartet of laptop musicians.
Professor Wright explained: “Much of my work looks at the dynamic connection points between classical musicianship and DJ technology; because of the sound Sleichim was looking to create, I was offered the role of Musical Director, as well as asked to form and lead the quartet of musicians that appear on stage for the entire run, about 75 performances!
“It took about six weeks to produce the electronic music for the show, developing the ideas of the composer into a digital score for the quartet of electronic musicians. The quartet of musicians also assisted with the sound design for the production, such as the balance and placement of the sound in the theatre.
“The whole process involved some traditional musical skills, such as playing and learning by ear, arranging using musical notation and scheduling and leading the rehearsals. But it also involved intensive software programming, surround sound spatialisation and technical discussions with the team, including the cast, live sound engineers and set designers.
A scene from Network, left and onscreen Bryan Cranston. Image taken by Jan Versweyveld
“The music is incredibly important for the show as it creates a synthetic layer of sound that moves around the theatre and helps to add tension to the plot; one that focusses on the very timely issues of fake news and corrupt corporate thinking.”
Network debuted in November to critical acclaim, receiving a five star review from the Guardian; gaining high praise from the New York Times for being immersive; and being described as ‘breathtaking’ by the Hollywood Reporter.
The sold-out show will reach a live audience of around 65,000 people during its run at the National Theatre, which ends in March 2018.
Professor Wright continued: “It has been an education to see at close quarters actors at the level of Bryan Cranston and Michelle Dockery working through the script with such attention to detail and to each nuance of the play. Their conviction and passion to make the work resonate with audiences shows that a critical work of art can be a popular one. The arts are so much more than entertainment.”
Notes to editors
Canterbury Christ Church University
Canterbury Christ Church University is a modern university with a particular strength in higher education for the public services.
With 17,000 students across Kent and Medway, its courses span a wide range of academic and professional subject areas.
- Over 94% of our UK undergraduates were in employment or further studies six months after completing their studies*.
- We are one of the South East’s largest providers of education, training and skills leading to public service careers.
*2015/16 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey