Like all good ideas, it looks obvious as soon as it is described. Put together lists of someone’s crucial experiences and favourite songs; hand them to a musicals expert and they will give the life a soundtrack. Director Michael Gyngell has launched the Musical Theatre Factory to make individually tailored musicals, to be performed – by professionals or by you and your friends – to private gatherings; for now, online. Prices vary from £300 for a bespoke song to £30,000 for a complete show. “It all depends,” says Gyngell, “on the life you’ve lived.”
I wanted a musical celebrating a theatrical talent. I thought of Eileen Atkins, From Infant Tapper to Dame Rapper; then Gyngell suggested the most famous of Observer theatre critics, Kenneth Tynan. We agreed on essential ingredients: explosiveness and high-definition performance. What with filming performances and recording music, Gyngell normally allows nearly three months from first draft to completion. A full-blown production like Tynan – the Musical might take a year. We had only days, but Gyngell came up with a, well, spanking proposal for a show I might one day review.
Tynan opens with the fusty theatricals the critic loathed. A “lush and detailed set”, including a village well. A “spirited, over-costumed chorus” singing, with overtones of late Ivor Novello, about “the local boy who decides to be someone else”. The scene, which looks like Ruritania but is actually Edgbaston, is violently interrupted by Tynan, who storms on stage, tears down the backcloth and demands his story be given radical expression. It will be improvised in a black box. But gorgeously.
A “magnificent montage sequence” for his rise to power. A duet along the lines of You’re Nothing Without Me, from City of Angels, to suggest his love-hate relationship with Laurence Olivier. Sadomasochism represented by a variation on Paul Simon: 50 Ways to Beat Your Lover. There is also a big number from Noël Coward, whom Tynan has just panned: “Though I can see you have a job to do/ Like Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt/ I’ll be blunt, Mr Tynan, you’re a cunt!”