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Interview: ‘How To Use A Washing Machine’

As 'How To Use A Washing Machine' starts its UK tour, Imogen Harter-Jones talks to its writers and directors about the experience of writing an original musical and taking it on tour.

From the BT studio to a national tour ‘How To Use A Washing Machine’ has grown from strength to strength. Imogen Harter-Jones talks to writers and directors Georgie Botham and Joe Davies.

The pub! Many of the best ideas occur there. Indeed, in the cosy nook of an Oxford hostelry is where Georgie Botham and Joe Davies brainstormed into existence ‘How To Use A Washing Machine’. Little did they know, in Oxford in 2018, that their newly penned and composed musical would not only have a successful BT Studio run but would also then progress (one year later with some editing and reworking) to a national tour with performances at Oxford North Wall Arts Festival, London’s Theatre 503, the Greater Manchester Fringe and the Edinburgh FRINGE itself. 

Georgie and Joe discussed the development of ‘How To Use A Washing Machine’ from their rehearsal studio before the start of their summer UK tour. Impressively, Georgie wrote the book and lyrics of the musical whilst directing a play in the second year of her English degree and Joe composed the music during his Music Finals. From the outset, this project has been what they both describe as “a leap of faith”, but evidently one that has paid off. Their camaraderie, creativity, professionalism and trust as friends developing this project has been pivotal. 

Despite their considerable previous directorial, acting and musical experience, ‘How To Use a Washing Machine’ is a first for both Joe and Georgie; this is their first original musical and builds on their ideas to create an exciting new show. Starting off with the simple question of “what it is like to go home for the very last time?” Georgie says that “it’s a show about finding yourself and trying to find your footing, that found itself along the way”. While coming from the angle of divorcing parents and the breakup of their traditional family unit, at some point everyone realises you won’t return to live in the family home for any extended period, if at all; it resonates with everyone. 

Their take on the story is wonderfully unconventional and both profound and funny. Despite the small two-person cast, one male and one female actor (Cass played by Emelye Moulton and James by Joe Winter (in July) and Max Cadman (in August)), they were adamant from the start that “it is not a boy meets girl story”. Instead, it follows the relationship of a brother and sister literally boxing up their lives and childhood before moving onto adulthood. This is refreshing as many mainstream musicals focus on a tumultuous love story between its protagonists but this liberation from convention has allowed them to explore what Georgie believes to be the most “enduring relationship” of your life, the one with your siblings.

Joe explained that, despite ‘How To Use a Washing Machine’ being unashamedly a musical in form, they wanted to escape the cliché of just being a large, glitzy, over dramatic spectacle. The actors are accompanied not by the expected “classic keys, guitar, bass” but rather a string quartet. Joe’s aim as composer and musical director was to “isolate it (strings)” and show the “infinite possibilities” allowing them to sound as varied as a “rock band, jazz band and hip hop”. 

The writing and rehearsal process for ‘How To Use A Washing Machine’ was a whirlwind which left Georgie and Joe with “no time to second guess” themselves. However, they believe that “liberated” rather than limited them. With an agreed basic plot, Georgie wrote the book and lyrics which she sent to Joe who developed them into the songs of the musical. Despite the inherent musicality of the performance Joe firmly believes that “the words and drama are the most important thing. The music is there to serve the drama, not the other way around”, and the harmony of the songs and their meaning and the accompanying music is evident in the finished result.

At some point, everyone needs to learn ‘How To Use A Washing Machine’; it’s an essential growing up experience. When it’s time to empty your room, and pack those boxes for the final time, it’s perhaps inevitable that you will examine your life, your decisions, what means enough to keep and what can be discarded; you wonder who you are, feeling nostalgic, tense and excited, as you move into your unknown future having revisited your past. With their ambitious four stop UK tour this summer, Georgie and Joe’s future dramatic and musical endeavours are definitely worth following. 

Summer 2019 Tour dates for ‘How to Use a Washing Machine’: Oxford- North Wall Arts Centre – 15th – 16th July. London- Theatre503 – 19th – 20th July. Manchester- Hope Aria House – 23rd – 26th July. Edinburgh Fringe – ZOO Southside – Studio – 2nd – 26th August.

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