THE Flanagan Collective and Gobbledigook Theatre had to cut short their 18-month international tour last March, the pandemic forcing Alexander Flanagan Wright and Phil Grainger to fly back to North Yorkshire from Australasia.
A year later, however, a brand-new work, created in tandem with fellow theatre-maker Oliver Tilney, will drop today in the global digital form of Half Man//Half Bull, a narrative-led double album of two ancient myths and 20 original songs to be “experienced at home”.
Fusing spoken word, electronica and soul, Half Man//Half Bull retells the interlinking myths of Theseus & The Minotaur and Daedalus & Icarus, presented in a listening pack designed by Lydia Denno that will be sent out in the post.
Over the past few years, Alex and Phil, friends since Easingwold schooldays, have taken their international award-winning shows Orpheus, Eurydice and The Gods The Gods The Gods to packed rooms across Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Bali and New York, performing an enthralling, electrifying brand of spoken word and live music.
Once back home, they teamed up with long-time collaborator Oliver Tilney – he played Jay Gatsby in Wright’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby for the Guild Of Misrule at 41 Monkgate, York, in 2016 – to create Half Man//Half Bull.
“From the get-go, we wanted to make a new piece of work that wasn’t contingent on being performed live,” says Oliver, who first brought the idea to Alex and Phil last June. “We didn’t want a watered-down version of something to give to audiences; we wanted to create a new piece of work in its correct form. For us, that form is a double narrative-led album.”
The trio have partnered up with 15 organisations to bring the idea to life, among them the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, Theatr Clwyd, Leeds company Slung Low, Rural Arts, Thirsk, and The Barn Theatre, their involvement affirming the appetite for this type of work.
Alex says: “We started talking with our brilliant pals at Streatham Space Project, where we managed to bring a socially distanced version of Eurydice in September. It quickly became clear there would be an appetite for a theatre, or an organisation, to be able to deliver content to their audience while people couldn’t gather in a more traditional setting.”
An Arts Council Project Grant allowed the team to grow: the trio have collaborated with producers, designers and host of musicians to realise this project, alongside the family of theatres, venues and partner organisations.
After years of touring, lockdown has provided an opportunity to create and develop, says Phil. “Alex and I have been writing and touring shows for a while, with an ambition to grow our sound. This felt like a great opportunity to work with more people, collaborate with more artists and, crucially, create some work for as many freelancers as we could afford,” he explains.
That team includes Aminita Francis, from BAC BeatBox Collective; Zimbabwean-born musician Tendaii Sitima; designer Lydia Denno and project producer Charlotte Bath. “We were also able to spend a lot of time at Crooked Room studios working with Isaac McInnis, which really helped grow the sound,” says Phil. “It’s crucial that as this is an audio project, that it sounds flipping great.”
Billed as “an epic storytelling adventure for our time”, Half Man//Half Bull is designed expressly as an At-Home experience. “If you buy, you’ll get a physical pack through your door with artwork, listening instructions and an invitation to step back out into the real world,” says Alex.
For further information and to buy the albums, go to: HalfManHalfBull.com.
Created by Phil Grainger, Oliver Tilney and Alexander Wright.
Guest artists: Aminita Francis as Theseus; Tendaii Sitima as Daedalus.
Project producer: Charlie Bath; music producer, Isaac McInnis; designer, Lydia Denno.
Recorded and mixed by Isaac McInnis at Crooked Room Studios; mastering by David Lawrie.
Additional music: Frances Bolley, Tom Figgins, Isaac McInnis, Emil Ryjoch and Gavin Whitworth.
Additional voices: Angie Alle, Hille Auvenin, Joanna Bongowska, David Calvitto, Laura Darling, Megan Drury, Inês Sampaio Figueiredo, Peter Groom, Lucas Jones, James Lawrence, MJ Lee, Serena Manteghi, Iona McInnis, Marnie Silver and Jess Zilleson.
With thanks to: Angie Alle, Anikdote, Darren Lee Cole, James Dale, Megan Drury, Luke Langley, Helen Simpson, Michael Slater, Simon Victor and Paul & Maggi Wright.
Made with: At The Mill, Stillington; Birmingham Hippodrome; NEAT; November Club; Rural Arts, Slung Low; SoHo Playhouse; Stephen Joseph Theatre; Storyhouse; Streatham Space Project; The Barn Theatre; Theatr Clwyd; Theatre Deli; The Place and The Roses Theatre.