Daphne Lander and Anne Jones are both in their mid-70s and they’ve just written a musical Artaban which is about to be shown in the West End.
How old are you both?
Daphne: Anne and I are both 75 – Anne is just older than me by a few days – she is 24th December and I am 29th.
Anne: We were both born under the star sign Capricorn and have always had similar interests and outlooks on life. I understand that a trait of the Capricorn is we will always achieve what we set out to do! Certainly, this trait has helped us both through the exciting but, at times, challenging journey we have travelled with our project to create Artaban, the musical.
How do you know each other?
Daphne: We met at secondary school at age 11 and so have been friends for many years.
Anne: From the day I met Daph, at our first year at Mayfield School, Putney, which was one of the first comprehensive schools of the fifties, I was attracted to her vitality and – sorry Daph – slightly crazy ways! She was a natural actor even then and entertained the class with her antics and impersonations. We competed for the best marks in English each year and both enjoyed writing and drama. In the fourth year we were involved in the annual Drama Competition; our class put on an extract of King Lear and it was a natural that Daph played King Lear and I was the director. We became close friends then and have stayed close since with the form of friendship that can revitalize itself even when we don’t see each other for months on end.
Daph went on to shine in the amateur dramatic arena and I went on to write books; I have seven self-help books published to date.
Why a musical at this point in your lives?
Daphne: I don’t think I set out originally to write a musical – it was more in my mind to write a play which in fact I did, but then when Anne read the story, she saw it as a musical and found Rick Radley who was able to write the music inspired by Anne’s lyrics. So, through many amendments the musical was born.
Anne: The idea of the musical came once Daph passed me the book The Other Wise Man. I had never considered writing for the stage before then.
How did it come about?
Daphne: I was Chair of a drama group and in the choir at my Church and had written two plays already – one celebrating the centenary of the Church and the other adapting a radio play for the stage. A member of the congregation approached me one day with a book in his hand and said that he thought I would be able to do something with it. Meaning I guess, he thought I would adapt it for a play which the drama group could perform – I read the story and was enthralled by it and sent it to Anne who was similarly moved.
Anne: Daphne passed me the book The Other Wise Man written by American Henry van Dyke, a philosopher, clergyman, and short story writer of the early twentieth century. As I read it, I could see it being performed in vivid colour and vibrancy on the stage as a musical. I could see a full cast dancing, singing, and performing on a major stage – I could even see some of the dance sequences! Which is odd as I cannot write or play music and I cannot even sign in tune! And I don’t dance either! But I felt compelled to work with Daph to create a musical and as I enjoy writing and have written some poetry, I thought I would enjoy writing the songs. Daph had stage experience, so the stage play was a natural for her.
Why are you fascinated by this book The Other Wise Man ?
Daphne: The story is very strong on many levels – if you are a Churchgoer then it resonates with the story of Christ and his message to the world and if you are not, then a story of compassion to your fellow man and making sacrifices means something to everybody. The story came out of Henry van Dyke’s head – he said and I quote ‘I do not know where it came from – out of the air perhaps. One thing is certain, it is not written in any other book, nor is it to be found among the ancient lore of the East. It was a gift. It was sent to me.’ How could you not be fascinated by this story?
Anne: Although I am not religious, I was brought up with the story of the birth of Jesus and the message he brought. I am a spiritual healer and teacher and the story of Artaban the Fourth Wise Man resonated so well with me. Artaban missed his opportunity of giving gifts to Jesus in Bethlehem because he was delayed by his need to help a sick man he saw on the side of the road. Despite his overwhelming desire to join the other Three Magi he felt compelled to help the man and missed the family who had moved on to Egypt by the time he arrived. He then spent the next thirty odd years of his life looking for Jesus but also stopping off to help those in need. Like so many of us he was faced with a dilemma and pulled in two directions. To do the right thing, to be compassionate and help others (including our families) and to follow our personal dream and seek our own fulfilment – to follow our hearts calling. It’s only a small book but the message is strong and as timely now as it was when Henry first wrote it. It is also a tale of good and evil. The story tells of the corruption and greed in the world at that time making the lives of ordinary folk miserable and the cruelty and oppression of the despotic Roman leader Herod. Similarly, we don’t have to look far in today’s world to see the two sides of humanity. The wonderful acts of kindness on the one side and on the other the scamming of the innocent and the misuse of power of many world leaders.
Was writing it at your ages, an advantage of age?
Daphne: I guess the main advantage was in being retired which gave the time and space to write it. I don’t think if I had still been working full time it would have been easy given the time that it has required to polish it to its present state.
Anne: As Daph says, I have more time now than I had when working full time. But I think age has brought a certain level of WHY NOT philosophy to me. I don’t feel scared to try something new because if it doesn’t work it just doesn’t matter – I won’t lose my self-esteem if I do something that is rejected, whereas when I was younger success mattered. Now I am prepared to give anything I feel good about a try, give it a chance and to stretch myself, to push out boundaries and not be intimidated by anxieties about what other people may think about me or my work. Once you take the fear of failure from a project you have a far higher chance of success.
Is it religious?
Daphne: The basic premise is religious because the story is undoubtedly linked to the birth, life and death of Christ. We cannot deny that this is the backdrop, but we strove to broaden the story so that Artaban could be every man or woman who has a quest or goal in life, who has to battle to fulfil that goal and has to make sacrifices along the way. This has had particular resonances recently with the COVID pandemic when so many people worked so hard to help others often at great danger to themselves. The carers of this world got the recognition that they deserved but at what cost? So the story reflects all and none of the religions I guess.
Anne: It is based on a religious story but the message is spiritual and of human kindness. Also the battle everyone has at times to feel good about themselves. Araban felt happy to help others but unhappy that he wasn’t reaching his goal, fulfilling his quest to meet Jesus. It’s a very happy and uplifting story and the music reflects this mood of hope and the power of loving kindness.
Can you tell us something about the songs?
Daphne: Over to Anne on this one as I didn’t have any input into the songs at all – apart to stand in awe as the lyrics just kept coming into my inbox – each one better than the last!
Anne: As Daphne shared earlier, Henry was inspired to write this story from a source beyond his understanding and I experienced a similar sense otherworldliness of where the words came from! I would read Henry’s words from his book and then think how to put them into a song. And the words just came! I also held in mind the mood and the feelings I wanted to share with each song. I looked back into my own life’s experiences to find inspiration; especially relating to the love story that winds its way through Artaban’s journey, with the inevitable highs and lows, close times and separations. The words we write will always have greater resonance and authenticity when they come from our personal experiences. The most exciting time was to hear the music created by Rick that brought my songs to life – such a thrilling experience!
What was the process of writing like?
Daphne: Sometimes very easy and the words just flowed and at other times very difficult to get just the right “tone” – I have always enjoyed crafting words and I had a superb story to base my words on – although Henry did write in the vernacular of his times – lots of thees and thous which had to go. Also, the story changed along the way so there was always something new to think about and put a new twist into the story. My words reflect the Artaban that Henry wrote about, and I hope he would approve of what we have done with his hero.
How did the staging develop?
Daphne: Through many processes! We have been helped along the way by lots of people all of whom have contributed in different ways. A neighbour of mine introduced us to a musician who in turn led us to our musical Director Kipper Eldridge. Through that contact we staged a workshop in Pimlico which taught us a great deal and which has stood us in good stead for the forthcoming Showcase in St Paul’s Church – sometimes you have to fail and pick yourself up again and learn from your mistakes – just like Artaban! Another friend mentioned the Actor’s Church and we were so pleased that the Church was interested in staging it. We were introduced to a casting agency who have sourced us a great cast and a lovely Musical Theatre Director – so all of these elements have led us to this point.
Anne: As Daphne says we have been down some dead ends, fallen into some bear traps but, fortunately, we have managed to keep our sense of humour and sustained our friendship with all the members of the production team. Not only have I loved the creative times with Daph and Rick Radley, the amazing guitarist and singer who composed the music, but also our partners have been a vital component in the creation and production of Artaban and made it fun.
Do you want to write more?
Daphne: Not for the time being – I have spent so many hours with this that I think now it’s time to let Artaban find his way into the world and I will watch him hopefully entertaining and inspiring many people in the future. That would be a wonderful end to the story.
Anne: I would love the opportunity to write more songs – I found the experience of writing the words and hearing them transformed by great music one of my life’s greatest thrills! Yes, I think, I will write more songs once this production is over and we pass Artaban into the hands of professionals to take him on the next stage of his journey.
About Artaban – the story
We meet ARTABAN, magi and astrologer, in despair of a world filled with corruption, oppression and greed. But all hope is not lost; he and his fellow magi have discovered from their studies of ancient prophecies that there will be a new leader; a king who will bring light back to the world.
This uplifting story follows the adventures of ARTABAN the fourth Wise Man on his lifelong quest to deliver his gift of gemstones to Jesus. Will he succeed? Will his sacrifices reveal the true light and purpose of his life? As the story unfolds, we are introduced to the assortment of colourful characters ARTABAN meets on his journey.
With breath-taking performances by a West End cast, we witness his struggles and achievements. The story is brought to life by the vibrant music and songs which tap into all emotions.
A rock vibe is interweaved throughout, taking you on a mesmerising journey, as the songs morph from the soulful tracks “Sacrifices of the Heart”, “Love goes on Forever” and “Journey’s End” to the gritty, impactful guitar riffs of “Herod” and “Artaban”. The rousing finale of “I Now Understand” will have you bubbling over with hand-clapping, foot-tapping joy.
For more information (and to listen to some of the original music) see: https://artabanthemusical.co.uk/
To book tickets: https://actorschurch.ticketsolve.com/shows/873618294