In Her Eyes: An Interview with Toby Huelin

What is ‘In Her Eyes‘ about?

It’s a story about truth and lies, rumours and gossip. Our protagonist, Freddie, is a seventeen year-old girl who falls for an older boy, Jamie. Though always isolated, Freddie becomes an object of envy for the other girls in her year. Her love becomes obsessive and both her family and her work suffer as a result. Before the end of the musical, it will become clear that it also has even more destructive consequences. Jamie is never seen by the audience; he is present only in the effects he has on the other characters and in what they say about him. The audience is never given a clear message about what happened, and have to look at the evidence they are presented with and decide for themselves.

Why did you choose this topic?

The show was originally written for sixth form students at a girls’ school, and it seemed like something appropriate and relevant to them. A while back I was having a conversation with my family about a similar situation, and it seemed like a story that could be told in this way.

Why did you choose an all-female cast, and how does this change the compositional dynamic compared to your previous projects?

I had said yes to writing a musical for the sixth form of an all girls’ school at home before writing a note of the show, so the all-female cast was necessitated by the specifics of the first performance. Having said that, I think that the all-female casting is rarely seen in musical theatre, and gives the show a slightly different angle. Musically, it allows for lots of interesting very close harmonies, and reflects the fact that we are seeing Freddie’s story, rather than Jamie’s.

Who is your co-writer: how do you manage a collaborative creative process?

Lucy Fielding and I wrote the book together – so we plotted out the story and worked out what had to happen when, and then I went away and wrote the lyrics and the music, and Lucy heard very little of either until it was pretty much finished!

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What drew you to ‘A Theory of Justice: The Musical‘, your last project?

I thought it sounded like a lot of fun! Also, new musical theatre in Oxford is rare, and I thought it would be a really interesting process to be involved in. After Oxford, the show had a successful Edinburgh run, and there has been interest from schools and colleges across the UK and further afield too.

How does your composition for musical theatre coincide with your work for other arenas?

One of the great things about musical theatre is that because there’s a clear narrative, you have a clearly defined goal for each musical number – it has to serve this dramatic function, it has to get this character from one emotional space to another, and so on. I find it much easier to compose within these boundaries, which obviously still give masses of musical and lyrical flexibility. In Her Eyes is also quite stylistically diverse, and takes in a lot of my other work for plays, the concert hall and other forums along the way.

Who/what are your main inspirations, and what musicals do you think ‘In Her Eyes’ is comparable to?

Lots of things! I listen to a lot of pop music, which certainly feeds into my work in various ways. In terms of musical theatre, I think of my influences as writers like Jason Robert Brown, Andrew Lloyd Webber (especially Jesus Christ Superstar) and Richard Taylor – whether these can be heard in my music is another question!

What do you consider to be the main challenges for an emerging composer/director of musicals?

I think in the beginning you have to make opportunities happen for your work to be performed, rather than waiting for someone to ‘discover’ what you’ve written. This is the main challenge, although thankfully there are many platforms which make this easier.

In Her Eyes is being performed at the Burton Taylor Studio, 2nd week (28th Jan-1st Feb), 9:30pm. Tickets can be booked at www.oxfordplayhouse.com or visit www.IHEmusical.com for more information.

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