In amongst the party atmosphere of May week, one of the other traditional events is an outdoor theatrical production performed by BATS, a Cambridge theatrical society. This year their production was Albert Camus’ version of Caligula which was set in the delightful surroundings of Cloister court in Queen’s college.
A few weeks before the performance the quartet were approached by Silas Wollston, the head of music at Queen’s who asked if we might be interested in providing some background and incidental music for the play, which he was going to commission. There’s no way we were going to turn down an offer like that, and the quartet were happy to get involved with the project.
The music itself was composed by Matthew Benton, an undergraduate music student at Queen’s, who also acted as musical director for the show. It consisted of a number of relatively short pieces with themes taken from contemporary pop music but adapted to the more traditional themes of the play.
The music was not a major feature of the play, but was there to provide atmosphere or accompaniment at suitable points in the proceedings. As such the band would have been too loud if they’d been on stage, so instead we were stationed in the long gallery which runs along the top of the cloister, and played out to the audience through an open window. It was a somewhat surreal experience playing saxophone out of a window whilst being watched by a contemporary portrait of Oliver Cromwell and being careful not to sit on Erasmus’ chair.
The play itself is not a particularly jolly tale. It tells the story of a Roman Emperor who goes slowly mad after the death of his sister. It’s a pretty sordid tale of cruelty, incest, depravity and murder (lots of murder). When we first saw the scores for the music we were somewhat surprised to see that the main themes were called ‘Pain’, ‘Monotony’ and ‘Murder’, but having seen the play we realised that these were actually very apt.
The obvious gamble you take when putting on a production al fresco is with the weather. Whilst we had glorious weather for the dress rehearsal and the first performance the Thursday and Friday performances were rained off and had to move inside into the Fitzpatrick hall for some shelter. The final Saturday matinee moved back outside, but did have one short sharp shower which temporarily caused the audience to stay dry under a sea of umbrellas – unlike poor Caligula who got both wet and assassinated that night.
The run completed successfully and the reviews suggested it had been well received. The quartet had a very enjoyable week and an experience which they’re not likely to repeat for some time.