Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Thu 14-Sat 16 Feb
Why do we turn to songs to explore our feelings, particularly when we speak of love? Love songs often seem more able to translate our emotional experiences into words better than prose, and just as well as poetry. Maybe there’s a contact with the sublime there that simple conversation can’t express.
So it is that possibly the warmest and fuzziest experience you’ll feel over the next little while might well be David Paul Jones’ Palmstar Poppy, a musical journey through the experience of love. Jones is surely one of our leading theatre composers, with his work for Grid Iron, Suspect Culture and Theatre Cryptic, among others attracting acclaim from far and wide. This piece was initially inspired by the sight, during a 1999 tour of Australia, in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, of an old oil tanker with the implausible name of Palmstar Poppy. From this title, Jones has composed a narrative score about a man’s quest for love, somewhere, as another great love song puts it, over the sea.
‘I like the concept of theatre for the ears,’ Jones explains. ‘Most of my work involves theatre, and this is an extended musical narrative. It’s similar to an earlier work commissioned by Cryptic Productions as a musical piece, Something There, which was part of the Beckett Festival a few years back. It’s this idea of staged music.’ So it’s not just a succession of songs played by Jones on a piano, we’re asked to go further. ‘It’s about yearning for the unattainable,’ he says.
‘One entry that’s appeared in the press says that it’s about a sailor in search of his dead lover. I never actually thought of it as that specific, but all the same it’s not as abstract as it sounds. Tonally and musically it’s quite accessible, it’s a whole story, and it ends well.’