Star of BBC's Casualty talks about his other job of writing music for Christmas show at Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre

By Sue Wilkinson
Monday, 29th November 2021, 2:57 pm
Updated Monday, 29th November 2021, 2:57 pm

Composer and actor Simon Slater is all, what Thora Hird’s character in last of the Summer Wine would say, enviously, swank!

He has composed more than 300 original music scores for film, theatre, TV and radio and is a member of the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters.

He is a stage actor of note – with a one-man show called Bloodshot among his CV highlights – is a familiar TV face from his role as Inspector Kite in the Bill and more recently Dr Russell Faber in Holby City and has appeared on the big screen in The Iron Lady. That is the one starring Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher.

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His narration of the Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel won two awards; an Audie Award for Literary Fiction and an AudioFile magazine Earphone Award. For best sound designer in the 2013 play Constellations, he was nominated an Olivier Award.He plays piano, double bass, saxophones, clarinet, guitar, piano accordion, ukulele and mandolin.

As all this gone to his head? Of course not, he’s a Yorkshire man. Better than that he’s Scarborough born and bred.

Composer and sound designer Simon Slater at work on the music for the Stephen Joseph Theatre Christmas show(Photo: Tony Bartholomew)

He did win plaudits for his work on the music for the National Theatre’s production of Amadeus – but he’s has happy working on the songs for the Christmas show at the Stephen Joseph Theatre writing what he calls ‘rubbish’.

Simon, with playwright Nick Lane and Stephen Joseph Theatre artistic director Paul Robinson, is part of the creative team Scarborough audiences expect to deliver a Christmas cracker.

It is the same team which was behind A (Scarborough) Christmas Cracker, Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island and the Snow Queen.

This year’s seasonal show is Nick’s take on the fairytale Jack and the Beanstalk.Simon has written 12 songs – each of which are two-and-a-half minutes in length – for it.

“I knew Paul from London and when he came to Scarborough he invited me to work with him on the Christmas show,” said Simon, who is now an associate director of the Stephen Joseph.

“It may be miles away from London but I feel a deep loyalty to my home town and the Stephen Jospeh is a unique, iconic theatre,” he said.

“The theatre is really important for the town. It has a real sense of being part of the community.”

Simon was born in the town, the son of a sailor known as the Prospect Of Whitby one-legged yachtsman Arthur Slater.

The cast of Jack and the Beanstalk in rehearsal Su

He attended Bramcote preparatoryschool, where he was first inspired by his music teacher, before going to a Sedbergh School in the Lake District and in to the University of London.

“I write the lyrics and the music and I do the lyrics first,” said Simon. “I have to find a style.”

This year he has settled on a style inspired by the musical Andy Capp – inspired by the cartoon about the northern hen-pecked working class husband – written by Alan Price and Trevor Peacock and which starred Tom Courtney.

“I write first from character and Jack’s a Scarborough lad.”

Simon is also obsessed with George Formby and was bought his first ukulele from what was Bernard Dean music shop in Scarborough - so expect a hint of George too.

Among his favourite composers is Randy Newman best known for the sing-along tune You’ve Got a Friend in Me from Toy Story. “I love the wry sense of humour and the ragtime/vaudeville style,” he said.

“I don’t have a grand plan. I sit down at the piano and improvise – I literally make it up. I write what I would like to hear.”

His songs also have to reflect Nick’s notion of Christmas which he has expressed in all his festive offerings for the theatre – that Christmas is a time for caring, sharing and kindness.

“In two-and-a-half minutes the song has to have everything – fun, soul and style.

“There also has to be a big, cheesy Christmas song,” said Simon.

His music teacher at Sedbergh was Derek Cox now in his 80s. After hearing Simon’s O’level examination exercise - writing a melody to four lines of a poem - he declared: “Slater, it’s not very good but it’s very catchy.”

Simon said: “And 45 years later it is still the same.”

Mr Cox wrote to Simon after his work on Amadeus – the story of Mozart relationship with fellow composer Salieri – congratulating him and saying he had followed his career over those 40-plus years.

READ how the cast of Jack and the Beanstalk will spend Christmas Day here

As well as Jack and the Beanstalk this year, Simon is writing the music for Aladdin at Winchester Theatre Royal and working with young people for a production of Peter Pan at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton.

For all his public school education – and all that cleverness it conjures up – Simon is as unabashedly at home writing populist, variety-inspired songs as he is following in the footsteps of one of the greats of classical music.

You can take the boy out of the seaside but you cannot take the seaside out of the boy.

He was brought up on jazz, especially Benny Goodman –still his greatest love – and as well as being taken to watch Alan Acykbourn’s plays at what was the playwright’s base at Westwood, his mum took him to see shows at the now-demolished Futurist. They included the Black and White Minstrels and Cannon and Ball.

He talks about his love of Nat King Cole and visits to Green Mill Jazz club in Chicago with as much affection has sell-out runs of Nick Payne’s explosive play about free will and friendship Constellations in the West End.

He visits Scarborough regularly – not least of all to rehearse the show. He has taken up sea swimming – cold but exhilarating – in the South Bay.

“I was swimming one day in the rain and the sun came out and ther was a rainbow from the castle to the Spa. It doesn’t get much better than that.”

Jack and the Beanstalk is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from Friday December 3 to Friday December 31.

Gemma Fairlie directs a cast comprising Jacob Butler, Jessica Dennis, Sheri Lineham, Alicia Mckenzie and Loris Scarpa.

Design is by Helen Coyston and lighting designer by Paul Stear.

The theatre is returning to full capacity for most performances of Jack and the Beanstalk, but for the comfort of those who prefer it, nine performances – roughly two shows a week – will stay at social distance – full details can be found on the theatre website.

Tickets, priced from £10, are available from the box office on 01723 370541 and online at www.sjt.uk.com