Caro Meets Music Interview Musicals & Opera Interview

Tanya Holt: Cautionary Tales For Daughters

By | Published on Wednesday 25 January 2017

I was immediately intrigued by the sound of ‘Cautionary Tales For Daughters’, not least because I’m the mother of girls. It’s a song-cycle that deals with a lot of the issues facing young women as they approach maturity, particularly in light of the growth in recent years of the internet and social media.
To find out more about the show, I spoke to creator and performer Tanya Holt.

CM: Can we start by finding out what type of show this is? What format can audiences expect?
TH: Darkly comic, satirical songs, performed with live instruments, that tell of the grisly demise of girls who succumb to their vices.

CM: What sort of topics do you cover with your songs?
TH: Emotional procrastination, profligacy, regrettable tattoos, the vacuous nature of celebrity, YoYo dieting, gender stereotyping, domestic violence and “youth, looks and cheesecake are soon gone, but Cyberspace goes on and on.” Be careful what you share!

CM: What made you want to address these subjects this way?
TH: As the mother to a ten year old daughter, I am fretful about the minutia of her life and the challenges she faces in the 21st century. As a writer and singer it seemed natural to commit these ideas to music and be able to share them publicly.

CM: You describe your upbringing as unconventional – in what way? What elements of this have inspired the content of the show?
TH: At the age of 5, in the 1970s, I was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Belgium. I spent all my school days in single sex boarding schools and, as I have aged, I realise how much I had to learn/fend for myself. It’s been a struggle that I don’t want my own daughter to endure.

CM: Do you think it’s harder, or scarier, to raise a child now, than it used to be, given the new pressures and problems they face as a result of constant exposure to media?
TH: Every generation has its own set of challenges. We need to accept that there is nothing we can do to prevent our daughters from being exposed to the unsavoury elements of cyberspace. We can’t hide it from them, so need to provide them with the tools to be able to apply good judgement when needed. The internet has so many fantastic features, I don’t want to discourage my daughter from using it. Luckily, she currently has no interest in social media.

CM: Some of your material was created using stories drawn from group discussions, wasn’t it? Can you tell us a bit about that?
TH: What began as a personal project for my daughter caught the imagination of other parents living in Lambeth. The Arts Council funded some more formalised group discussions and I hosted countless coffee shop chats. Via an anonymous ‘notes on a postcard in a hat’, the participants would suggest themes for the show and talk about their own regrets and worries for their children or grandchildren. The most interesting for me was a mixed gender group of octogenarians who envied the opportunities and freedoms that young women now have.

CM: Your audiences also get to contribute to the shows, don’t they? Can you explain how that works?
TH: During the interval the audience are asked to contribute words of advice anonymously on a postcard. I read them aloud during the performance and the most interesting are put into a song that is performed at the next show. The contributions are often hilarious and touching.

CM: The show had a successful run in Edinburgh a couple of years ago – has the show changed since then?
TH: The Edinburgh version of the show was 50 minutes long. This has been expanded to 90. As with any new creative endeavour, I needed to gauge the audience response to the songs and taking the show to Edinburgh was the ideal opportunity to fine-tune and identify who the piece resonated with. We have only performed this this full-length version 8 times to date, so it’s going to be exciting to see what audiences make of it.

CM: Do you have any other future runs of it planned?
TH: After the run at Jermyn Street, the show goes on tour, visiting Cheltenham, Hemel Hempstead, Milnthorpe, Sudbury, Guildford, Much Wenlock and the Holt Festival in Norfolk.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about how you ended up in this type of career? Was this what you wanted growing up?
TH: There was a lot of singing and listening to church music at my boarding school in Belgium. I still love listening to choral music. I decided I wanted to be a singer when I was about ten and played Anne in the musical version of ‘Anne of Green Gables’. Singing was the only thing I was good at and my family always encouraged me with it, although possibly not as a career choice.

CM: Where do you see yourself headed in the future?
TH: I intend to keep singing for as long as audiences keep turning up to hear me! I am continuing to develop my writing and composing portfolio with further musical theatre projects. These include a macabre reworking of the ‘Ugly Duckling’ story, with the principal premise being that far from being happy with his beautiful new image, Ugly is devastated. I have also reworked Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s unfinished poem ‘Christabel’ into a dark, musical journey.

CM: What’s coming up next?
TH: ShooShooBaby’s Great Cabaret Safari. My double act, ShooShooBaby, have been creating musical cabaret shows for 17 years. We have toured all over the world and have played in just about every village hall in England. This new show will begin touring in the Spring.

‘Cautionary Tales For Daughters’ is on at Jermyn Street Theatre from 30 Jan-11 Feb. See the venue website here for details.

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