West End stars have been lining up to star in David Staines‘ and Luke Simnett‘s new musical Night Flight which premieres in Oxford on Saturday (October 2).
The Oxfordshire-based writer spent lockdown creating the book and lyrics for the new musical Night Flight – based on the novel by French author and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – with music by Sheffield composer Luke Simnett.
“it was inherently dangerous – every time a pilot got into a plane he knew it could be the last time”
“Saint-Exupéry was a pilot who flew test flights through Latin America. It was the first time anyone had ever seen the world like this. They were real pioneers, but it was inherently dangerous, and every time a pilot got into a plane he knew it could be the last time,” David said.
David and Luke have assembled a glittering line-up for the Oxford premiere, including Adam Stone (Band of Brothers), who plays the central character of Riviére; Peter Karrie (title role in The Phantom of the Opera in the West End and on tour, Valjean in Les Misérables, Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, among others), Oxfordshire-based soprano Nadia Eide (star of The Voice UK); Kelly Mathieson and Katy Treharne, both of whom have sung Christine in The Phantom of the Opera; and locally grown sEt End performers Kelly Hampson (School of Rock, Ghost) and Tomas Wolstenholme (Once).
The Night Flight adaption is set in Argentina in 1929 and focuses on the pilots of Aéropostale company, who instigate the world’s first night-time airmail service.
“They started air mail from the southern tip of Latin America all the way up to Europe,” explains David. “Of course flying was much quicker than taking mail by ship or train, but the advantage that ships and trains had was that they could go through the night,” David continues.
“We wanted a really top calibre cast for this and have BEEN INCREDIBLY FORTUNATE TO GET THE PEOPLE WE HAVE”
“To us in the 21st century that sounds perfectly feasible, but 100 years ago there was no navigation equipment. During the daytime you navigated by map and what you could see on land, but at night you had none of that.
“These pilots put their lives in this director’s hands, flight after flight – how expendable are they in the quest to make things move faster?
“Air mail was a huge step towards the technology and instant communication that we enjoy today. We might think of it as archaic now, but less than a century ago this was a big leap forward.
“And while I’ve read most of Saint-Exupéry’s work and love it, as I re-read this one I could envisage scenes and imagine where songs might fit into the story.
“We sometimes look at the cast list and have to pinch ourselves!”
“So when Luke sent me a message out of the blue, and we started talking about collaborating, one of the ideas we had was Night Flight.”
Which is all well and good but how did they amass such a stellar cast? “We’ve been incredibly fortunate to get the people we have,” says Luke. “We knew we wanted really top calibre people for this and both have good contacts in the West End, so between us we have quite a pool of people to call on.
“We had no idea whether people would say yes or no. So that was really exciting. We do sometimes look at the cast list and have to pinch ourselves!”
“We got Peter Karrie onboard early on, and with his pedigree that was a big step for other people being interested in the project,” Luke explains.
“we hope this show’s got a fighting chance – it’s a good story and has some really intriguing characters”
“But it took us a long time to get the lead man, Riviere. He had to be right, because he carries the show.”
David agrees: “Yes, Riviere is central to the show. Adam Stone is a very good actor and he’s going to bring a lot to the role because Riviere is quite hard to read, and has scope for an actor to really put their stamp on such a complex and interesting character.
For David and Luke, this premiere is hopefully just the beginning of an exciting journey. So how are they feeling about the premiere? “Sometimes it’s just about capturing the zeitgeist and being in the right place at the right time. But we hope this show’s got a fighting chance – it’s a good story and has some really intriguing characters,” David adds.
“In Oxford it could be a one-off in many respects because the show will never be exactly the same again. So this is a really exciting phase of the project and we hope it will have a future life.”
The premiere of Night Flight will be at St Andrew’s Church, Oxford, on Saturday, hosted by Oxford Operatic Society chair Edward Blagrove, with musical direction by Dominic Lo. Tickets at: www.TicketSource.co.uk/Night-Flight or 0333 666 3366.