Songs for special evening

Kate Garner prepares for her show, Songs from the Art Deco Decades

Rye News took the opportunity to interview Kate Garner in advance of her hotly anticipated show, Songs from the Art Deco Decades at the Milligan Theatre on Saturday, November 2.

The songs from the show will be drawn from the 1920s and 30s – which were significant decades in Rye’s literary development with a host of novelists living in or visiting the town on a regular basis. The period is most associated with EF Benson and his series of novels covering the antics of Mapp & Lucia – and this is one of the topics close to Kate’s heart.

Kate has always loved the 1920s and 30s, “The style of the clothes and especially the music. When I was a teenager, I fell in love with the TV series ‘Mapp & Lucia’ and then went onto read the books” she said. “I love EF Benson’s characters, his human observations are so sharp and simply brilliant. He has the unique ability to turn the seemingly mundane into something sensationally bizarre!”

Kate is taking her love of the EF Benson novels and producing a musical. It is currently in development with London producers Runaway Entertainment, who have had recent success with ‘The Railway Children’ which was staged at Kings Cross. “I’m really excited to be working with them” Kate said, “The plan is to stage it next year, to tie in with the 100th anniversary of the first ‘Mapp & Lucia’ book EF Benson wrote entitled ‘Queen Lucia’.”

The Mapp & Lucia musical will focus on the fourth book in the series, called simply ‘Mapp and Lucia’ but it also includes one or two elements from other books. For those who do not know the story, Kate explained, “It is essentially a comedy of manners, a war of one-up-manship amongst the social classes. It’s set high on a hill in the fictional Sussex seaside town of Tilling, with its cobbled streets and crooked chimneys…(yes, of course it’s Rye!) There are some colourful characters but our stars of the show are undoubtedly the two ladies, Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline Lucas (Lucia). Mapp is the doyenne of the town whose crown is threatened after the arrival of Lucia. What Mapp wouldn’t do to win it back and what Lucia does to try and retain it…well you have to see it to believe it!”

When asked why the novels lend themselves to a musical, Kate responded, “The books have great stories with some wonderful dialogue, delivered by bold characters. It felt such a natural thing to give them music.” She said, “Especially as these books were written and set in the inter-war years, an era which I think produced some of the best songwriters in history; Noel Coward, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern are just some of the names that have inspired me to write these songs. Together with the beautiful clothes worn at the time, it seemed to call for a musical!”

Kate was quick to stress that she adapted the dialogue from the book by shaping it to make it rhyme but wanted to change as little as possible in respect for EF Benson’s work. “I would add the melody to fit the ‘shape’ of the words after including a few of my own that felt right.” She explained, “Obviously it has already become something different to the books, as music and rhyme have been applied, but I was careful not to alter much.”

There is one character that Kate most particularly enjoyed bringing to life – and that was Quaint Irene, the bohemian artist and town rebel. “I felt she needed a spotlight as she’s passionate and unpredictable, which makes her interesting.” Kate said. “I’ve given her a ballad to sing, which I shall perform at the Milligan. She also helps to give us an insight into the rest of the characters as she doesn’t care what she says about anyone or what they think of her, so she provokes some tale telling reactions.”

Songs from the Art Deco Decades is being presented by the Rye Arts Festival as a special one-off event and the audience is encouraged to come dressed for the Great Gatsby era. The show had been previously performed at Crazy Coqs in Piccadilly during the summer. “It is a beautiful art deco style supper club which suited the era of the music perfectly” Kate said. “It was well received, so much so that we’ve been invited back on March 6 next year.”

As well as performing 1920s and 30s music in the Milligan concert there will be a sneak preview of a few extra songs from the musical which will be played for the very first time.

The show will be taking place at 7:30pm on Saturday November 2 at the Milligan Theatre and tickets can be purchased on Rye Arts Festival website. For more information on Kate and to follow her adventures go to her website:

Image Credits: Kate Garner .


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