Interview: Barbara Jane Mackie

This week I interviewed Barbara Jane Mackie, writer of the musical 'Rumpy Pumpy', which is currently on in London.

Your musical, Rumpy Pumpy is on at the Kings Head and soon transfers to the Landor, what was your inspiration for the piece?

In 2007 I saw the Channel 4 Documentary 'The Ladies of the Hampshire WI and their search for a perfect Brothel' and was grabbed by this story of two very brave, elderly, WI Ladies who decided to go on a worldwide search to find the perfect brothel, so appalled were they by conditions on the street for Working Girls. I live quite near to Jean Johnson and Shirley Landels so got in touch with them and asked to meet and we got on well so I wrote a film script around this subject. It was only at the beginning of this year, after visiting and spending time in Brothels with Working Girls who were all normal people - teachers, nurses, students, hairdressers, single mums - and juggling other jobs on top and often holding up whole families that I was inspired to write this story. The WI and the Brothels seemed like conflicting worlds which is, of course, for creating drama. The bravery of the WI Ladies and also the Brothel Working girls was what inspired me.

You know a couple of the women that you based characters on, did they help with your research and have they seen the musical?

Yes, Jean Johnson and Shirley Landels (now sadly deceased) were the women I figured for the main narrative of the Musical. Shirley died not long after I met her (a lovely lady!) but Jean has carried on with the Hampshire WI and they continue their campaign to decriminalise prostitution. They both helped a lot with my research and Jean sent me up to meet a Madame up north, when Shirley died, so I could immerse myself in the world of brothels - I visited a couple of others too and spoke at length to two other pro-decriminalisation Madams too. Jean is continuing to keep me up to date with her Lobby Group and her campaign. The ECP - the English Collective of Prostitutes - are linked up with Jean and they all campaign together. Jean has already seen the Musical and loves it and the ECP are coming for this run.

When did you begin writing the musical and how has the journey been from page to stage?

Good question! It’s been a massive journey for me as before writing and composing this Musical, I had never written a song in my life. I had written and composed a low key Musical a few years back for my kids High School, but nothing compared to this! I live in Ryde, Isle of Wight, and I couldn't find a Composer whose musical tastes were like mine, so I thought 'I'll have a go myself!' and that's just what I did. Note by note, line by line, all sung into my I-phone App under my duvet or at 3.00 in the morning when I could 'hear' the songs. I wrote the script and as I proceeded through the script and it felt like a good time for a Character to sing a song, I would stop and put myself into that Character's head and sing for them, as it were, until their song was formulated. Character comes first for me. If I can't nail the character and the character isn't developed then I don't know how, or in which style they would sing. So it's an organic process. I put the show on with an Amateur cast on the Isle of Wight to test run the show and develop the Music and audiences really loved it and all said just how commercial and 'West End' 'Rumpy Pumpy! is. I'm hoping now to attract West End Producers.

What do you hope the audience will take away from watching it?

I hope they will be inspired to support Jean Johnson's Campaign and I'm hoping this Musical will change hearts and minds. I also always intended for 'Rumpy Pumpy!' to be entertaining, so ultimately I want them to go away thinking, smiling and wiping away at tear. It's a comedy drama so I want to move people, make 'em laugh, make 'em cry! Entertainment is my main goal and I have tried hard not to be too 'preachy' about the subject matter as I myself don't like being preached to, so have used a light touch on the darker subject matter. To my mind it's a family show, no swearing, it's not set in the bedrooms of the Brothel and they are all real characters.

What are your plans for the future with regards to your writing?

I'm a script and screenwriter by trade, but am enjoying writing Musicals so am already writing 'Cowboy Girls' a Western and a Musical - again a very lively, upbeat show with great, great parts for women. I'm hoping Arts Council England - who funded this run of 'Rumpy Pumpy!' will support and funder a longer three/four week run in London in a West End theatre. There is such goodwill, enthusiasm and excitement around 'Rumpy Pumpy!' that I'm feeling very confident that we will get the financial backing to do that.

What are you up to when you're not writing?

Walking by the sea, swimming, watching movies, going to the gym and living my life between my beloved Isle of Wight and London, darting between the two. The busy pace of London combines well with the restful, laidback life on the island and this is a great place for me to compose and write. A lot of blue sky space which clears my mind! I'm always drumming up new projects, scripts, plays, Musicals and always have projects stacking up like planes on a Heathrow runway.

Rumpy Pumpy is on at The Kings Head Theatre (London) Thurs 9th April, and The Landor Theatre (London) Tues 14-Sunday 19th April 2015.
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