He has also written 22 musicals. So he is an interesting man.
When I saw his musical Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe, I wrote in my blog that it was “astonishing. It has more catchy tunes in it than all of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals combined… It is a combination of Rocky Horror style exuberance, British music hall jollity and the best of West End musicals… Its effervescent vitality is quite something to behold.”
Now the show is about to start at the Leicester Square Theatre with a week of previews starting on 27th January, followed by an initial six-week run. The cast now includes Spike Milligan’s daughter Jane.
I had a chat with Paul Boyd in Leicester Square this week.
“I see,” I told him, “that the title has lost the words Tit Factory. It is now just called Molly Wobbly. Is that for commercial reasons?”
“Yes,” admitted Paul. “The pressures of commercial theatre. Not so much for London but, if it ever ended up touring the regions, you would never get the original title into a brochure. The one thing I always fought for was the title, but I finally gave up last year when I had a fight with Transport For London who would not advertise it. They wouldn’t advertise Molly Wobbly’s T*t Factory and they said: We wouldn’t even advertise Molly Wobbly’s *** Factory.
“I thought: Well, if I’ve got those sort of problems in London, imagine what it will be like in Bridlington or Bath. At Leicester Square, they are selling it as Rocky Horror meets Carry On meets Little Shop of Horrors. That’s fine. If you can sell it as that, do it.”
“Well,” I said, “my view on most things is: Write it as Art. Sell it as baked beans.”
“Well, that’s it,” said Paul. “And, if you can sell that title…”
“I think it’s a really good title,” I said. “And pure kitsch is saleable.”
“That’s how you market it,” said Paul. “But, if you sit down to write it, you have to be prepared not to tie up loose ends. You have to think: I’m just going to go completely off the wall. All my other shows are very neat. When I sat down to write Molly Wobbly, I had no idea where it was going or how it was going to end. With Molly, I didn’t even know what a Tit Factory was when I started.”
“You thought of the title first?” I asked.
“Yes. Because it was for a competition I did not want to win. In 2006, Cameron Macintosh ran a competition to write a musical for a theatre which was opening in Inverness.”
“The Eden Court?” I asked.
“Yes. I was asked if I would submit an entry, but I didn’t have time to write a musical. I was touring South Korea or Taiwan with another musical and had loads on. The rules for the competition said you could submit ‘up to ten minutes’ of material from the full-length show. I didn’t have the full-length show, so I wrote a 10-minute musical and made it sound like an extract, and, to make sure they would never ask for the rest of it, I decided to call it something that no-one would ever produce and the words just came into my mind: Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory. And, inevitably, it got short-listed. I had to pull out of the competition because I had no time to write it and no idea what it was about.
“It stayed as a 10-minute musical for about four years and then the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, heard the 10-minute extract and wanted to commission a full-length show and they twisted my arm and convinced me and I sat down thinking: What the hell is a Tit Factory and what happens there?”
A song from the original Lyric, Belfast production is on YouTube:
“What was your elevator pitch for Molly?” I asked.
“I’ve never found a succinct way of selling it. It’s about giving a woman a makeover and, by the end, the town of Little Happening has got a makeover. It’s about people bettering themselves and getting their ideals, whether or not that’s everybody’s ideal – and people, under the influence of a potion, deciding how they can be sexier or more beautiful.”
“With laughs,” I said.
“Lots of titters,” said Paul.
“How does anyone decide they want to write musicals?” I asked.
“Well,” said Paul, “I did Gilbert & Sullivan at school in Belfast and I’m a big G&S fan to this day. I had a good music teacher called John Ross Dallas – JR Dallas.”
“Like me,” I said. “I had a music teacher at school who loved G&S – They are SO clever and SO funny.”
“At the age of 16,” Paul told me, “I played Coco in The Mikado and, at 17, I played Major-General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance. I performed those things and I suddenly realised that there was something I was good at. All my teachers who had ignored me, because I was useless in all of their classes, were suddenly talking to me. I remember the Physical Education teacher came and congratulated me. I hadn’t spoken to him about anything other than chilblains for about seven years.
“Then I went to the University of Ulster to do a History degree and changed subjects to Theatre Studies. I ended up doing a terrible course which was so bad I decided the only way I was going to have fun was to write a musical. I was 19 and wrote a show called Macbeth: The Musical in 1992. A producer came to see it, bought the rights and toured it all round Ireland. So I had a show touring at the age of 20 and I haven’t stopped since, maybe because I’m afraid of trying anything else.
“Originally, writing musicals was an accident – a way of having something to do as an actor. Then I stopped acting in them and just wrote them.”
“You’ve written rather a lot of musicals,” I said.
“Molly Wobbly was No 18 or 19. I’ve done 22 now.”
“But not,” I said, “without problems in Molly’s case…”
“2013 was a very strange year,” said Paul. “The show had been a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012. The Leicester Square Theatre wanted to put it on at Christmas 2012, but it wasn’t my call in those days: the show was owned by other people. There was this idea that it would go to the Hackney Empire and it was happening and then suddenly it wasn’t happening. It fell through at a day’s notice.”
There is a promo on YouTube for the unseen Hackney Empire production.
“We had rehearsed the show for three weeks,” explained Paul. “We had a fabulous cast and had wonderful production team – we had decades and centuries of experience. It was Friday morning and we were due to open that night. Then the finance all fell through on the day we were due to open. The money suddenly wasn’t there.
“Then, in 2014, I got the rights back and I was free to do what I wanted with it. So last year, we did a stage concert of it at the Phoenix Artists’ Club and then we were invited to take it to the Leicester Square Theatre.
“There was a guy called Christopher Malcolm, who has now passed away. He was involved in the Rocky Horror company – he played the original Brad, directed all the big Rocky Horror shows in the 1990s and, in 2012, he started working with me on Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory and helped me shape it from the 2011 one-Act version to the Edinburgh Fringe shows which you saw in 2012.
“Christopher’s plan for the show was always to start it small, like they did with Rocky Horror – to start it as a cult thing. He was always wary of the plans to take it to the Hackney Empire or anywhere that big – not because it was Hackney, but because it was a 1,200-seater theatre.
“He passed away in February 2014, so he never got to see it at the Phoenix, but that was very much in keeping with his plan. The Lyric in Belfast was 300 and the Edinburgh Fringe venue was 400. The Phoenix Artists’ Club was 40 or 50.
“Where we are going to be in the Leicester Square Theatre sits 70. So it has the right feel. You’re actually sitting in Mammary Lane. It’s almost immersive. It feels like an undergroundy show with room to grow. If it grows, fine; if it always stays a little cult show, also fine.”
The YouTube promo for the original Lyric Theatre/Edinburgh Fringe shows gives a good flavour of the show: