Musical versionof Prodigal Son

A modern-day retelling of the parable of the Prodigal Son is the major new show just about to open for Barnham-based theatre director Joe Harmston at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre where he is now associate director.

The Prodigals, which Joe will direct, was written by Joe and by Ray Goudie.

It runs from Friday, August 30-Saturday, September 14, with hopes high that it will tour next year when Joe would love to bring it to Sussex.

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A fast-moving, new musical, The Prodigals began life at The Edinburgh Festival two years ago. It has now been expanded and reworked, with Simon Bowman leading the cast.

Colonel Luke Gibson is proud to lead the Scottish regiment his family has served in for generations. The two sons he has brought up alone are now young men; while Captain Mike Gibson battles to destroy opium poppy fields in Afghanistan, his brother Kyle fuels his band’s gigs with heroin.

When Kyle hits rock bottom, can he return home to the community he has insulted and rejected? How will his brother respond to his needs? Will Colonel Gibson balance his love for two such different sons with his responsibilities to all the soldiers under his command?

“Ray and I got together to write the book. Ray wrote the lyrics, and we have got various song-writers and musicians that have created the score which is very contemporary music. There is a mixture of dub-step and club music. It has got a terrific feel.

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“We had hoped to go straight into a tour, but that is not going to happen, but we are hoping to do a tour near year. We are doing a couple of weeks in Coventry, which will give us a chance to road-test the show. In Edinburgh it was one hour long; now it is full length.

“Basically, it is a retelling of the Prodigal Son which I think is such an interesting tale for a contemporary audience about how difficult it is to be a father, particularly a father of two boys, the terrible splits and the almost schizophrenic experience of dividing your love between two children, both of whom you want everything for. We wanted to find a genuinely-contemporary context for it; the world we have chosen for the father is the world of the British army.”

One son follows the family tradition; the other diverges dramatically.

“We have worked very closely with the British army to get it all right. It has been a really exciting journey working with them.”

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As associate director at the venue, Joe’s task is to try to bring other artists and performers in: “It’s an ambassadorial role, but it also means that I have a very likely home for projects that I want to kick off there, providing they fit in with what the director feels is right for the building.”

However, Joe doesn’t see it as a step towards him running a theatre in his own right one day: “The significant thing of course is family, and running a building is a massive job. You have just got to be there 24/7, and I could not now uproot the family and move them somewhere else. There is only one theatre from my point view, and that is not going to happen.

“But in all honesty, I am not at all sure that my skills are those of an artistic director. I am such an admirer of what Jonathan Church has done at Chichester. He puts the seasons together so well, but I have to recognise where my talents lie, and I am not at all sure in all honesty that that is me. I am more about putting shows together, creating shows.”