“I wish you didn’t have to be in pain”
Multiple Sclerosis affects over 100,000 people in the UK alone.
One of the accusations often levelled by detractors of musical theatre is that it is fanciful, frivolous stuff, unable of taking subjects seriously. And whilst the form undoubtedly can have its lighter moments, I’d challenge anyone to listen to this new song cycle inspired by women living with multiple sclerosis and remain unmoved. MS. A Song Cycle is the brainchild of lyricist Rory Sherman, who has worked with SimG Productions, musical supervisor Ellie Verkerk and 14 different teams of composers and performers to create a delicately but undeniably powerful collection of stories, that gain in that power from being sung so beautifully as they are here.
Using the song cycle format means that Sherman can shift the perspective around the many ways in which MS can affect women both directly and indirectly, from mothers and daughters to wives, carers and sufferers. So Paul Boyd’s ‘Mummy’s Not Well’ sees a young girl dispatched to live with her aunt after her mother falls ill, Lauren Samuels perfectly cast in this almost John Kander-esque tune; Amy Bowie’s ‘Perhaps I’m Stronger Than I Think’ has Jodie Jacobs’ support group leader giving the benefit of her experience; Verity Quade’s Commute traces the difficulties that can be found in carrying out even the most mundane of daily tasks, as evocatively explained by Anna Francolini.
14 people are diagnosed with the disease everyday.
It is a deeply compelling collection of stories but also a marvellously, and thoughtfully, varied journey of songwriting. Wryly comic numbers rub shoulders with sadder, more reflective songs and throughout the tone is never self-pitying but rather utterly compassionate in its sensitive telling of how awful a condition MS is. The excellent ‘What’s That, Jim?’ sees a rare Drewe-less appearance from George Stiles as Caroline Quentin channels something of Victoria Wood’s beautifully bittersweet domestic observations, and Janie Dee’s ‘Alone In The Dark’, written by Eamonn O’Dwyer, and Laura Pitt-Pulford’s ‘Cerulean Skies’ by Sarah Travis are both soaringly beautiful ballads.
Most people are diagnosed in their 20s/30s
For me, the highlights of the album come with Josefina Gabrielle’s ‘My Son’s Secret’, Sherman unfurling a rather amusing tale of a mother’s discovery of alternative treatments to Tamar Broadbent’s driving music. And in a most pleasing turn up for the books, Julie Atherton (who might have seemed a natural choice for that song, given her wicked way with a comic song) gets the chance to sing with a pure and devastating simplicity in Erin Murray Quinlan’s heartbreaking ‘How Can I Tell You?’, the cream of a very talented crop, coming together to shine much needed light and hopefully increased awareness about MS>