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Laughter, tears and roast chicken – interview with Emily Rose Simons, Tanya Truman and Natasha Karp

On Sunday, 26 November, Emily Rose Simons, Tanya Truman and Natasha Karp will premiere their new musical in concert, “Becoming Nigella” in Manchester, during our Synagogue Nights season. In this interview we talk about acting, writing and Nigella Lawson!

“Becoming Nigella” is a funny and heart-warming story of Anna, who after her estranged mother passes away, inherits both Nigella Lawson’s seminal cookbook, How to Eat, and the spirit of Nigella herself, who strongly nudges Anna into the joy of living, learning and, most importantly, eating. Tanya Truman and Natasha Karp star in the show with musical direction from David Merriman. Grace Taylor is on directing duties and the book, music and lyrics come from the mastermind of Emily Rose Simons.

The show, which was initially presented at BEAM2023 at Oxford Playhouse, has already received positive feedback from audiences across the country. This November, you can see it during the Manchester premiere at Manchester Jewish Museum.

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Hello all! We are so excited to showcase “Becoming Nigella” as part of our Synagogue Nights. Could you tell us a bit more about the inspiration behind “Becoming Nigella” and how the idea for a musical centred around Nigella Lawson came about?

Emily: The idea of this show began in a cinema kitchen, where Tanya Truman and I met. On the rare occasion when Tanya was NOT singing, she would do impressions of Nigella Lawson. I believe, all those years ago, Tanya actually said “OMG you should write a Nigella Lawson musical and I can be Nigella Lawson.” Fast forward a few years, and here we are!

There are two characters in “Becoming Nigella” – Anna and, well, Nigella Lawson. What’s the dynamic between the two? And how did you find getting into these roles?

Tanya: When playing someone who’s a public figure or in the public domain in any capacity, you feel a duty of care to portray them authentically, whilst also making sure your performance is nuanced and not just a direct caricature/impression. With Nigella Lawson, I’ve watched a huge amount of her programmes on TV as well as researching the way she speaks through her books. I’ve tried to also put my own spin on how she would interact with Anna, as that is of course, a fictional scenario with tonnes of room to play and create from scratch!

Tash: The dynamic has evolved as we have been developing the show. In this current version, Nigella is very much a maternal figure to Anna as this role was lacking in her childhood. It’s been a challenge to ‘find’ Anna as she’s an invention, there’s no point of reference to her like there is for Nigella, so it’s been about finding ways into the character that will hopefully connect to an audience.

The musical was showcased at BEAM2023 and Musical Bites in 2023. Can you share some of the audience reactions and feedback you received during these showcases? Has it influenced any changes or refinements to the musical’s development?

Emily: There is quite a lot of excitement around this project. Audiences have found it heart-warming and funny. People connect strongly to the themes of family and food. The most consistent constructive feedback I’ve received is about the opening number. It’s a cracking song and Tash’s performance is astounding, but it doesn’t really work for the show without the brilliant staging being developed by Grace Taylor. A potential replacement is on the way, which means that the audience at MJM might be the last audience that get to experience it.

I also received feedback that the show isn’t vegan friendly. Actually, a couple of the main recipes focussed on are vegan. Also, though bacon is mentioned throughout the show, a keen eye would notice that the actual recipes cooked on stage can be made in a kosher kitchen, (otherwise it would be difficult for me to conduct important research!). But I feel quite passionate about Nigella’s portrayal in the show being respectful and true to her nature – and the woman loves her bacon!

What do you hope our audiences will take away from your show during Synagogue Nights?

Tash: We’d love our audience to come away feeling excited about seeing a full length version of the show but most importantly that they have had a good time. If we’ve struck the right balance, hopefully our audience will laugh, cry and leave wanting a really unctuous meal!!

What’s next? What should we look out for from the musical?

Tanya: We have another round of workshopping to undergo, hopefully in Spring 2024 to complete the full-length musical, which I’ll then be pitching for programming opportunities hopefully in London and beyond for a run!

“Becoming Nigella” will premiere in Manchester during our Synagogue Nights season, on Sunday, 26 November at 7pm.

BOOK TICKETS TO BECOMING NIGELLA

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