A note from the writers | Starter for Ten

20 Feb 2024
Student Life 2013 with Tom Rasmussen, Emma Hall and Charlie Parham

"We first had the idea to adapt David Nicholls’ brilliant novel into a musical ten years ago, when we were students ourselves. 

For both of us, the story epitomised adolescence in all its unvarnished, giddy glory. Starter for Ten is a classic coming-of-age tale which skewers young adulthood – a time we have all experienced, plagued by grand expectations, the vulnerability of first love and identity angst. A decade later, we now also recognise the nostalgia for a time when absolutely anything felt possible.  

When Southend-born Brian Jackson heads to Bristol University for his first year in 1985, his life-long dream is to appear on University Challenge. Inevitably, nothing quite goes to plan. A rollercoaster of wild parties, budding friendships and mortifying romantic interludes, Brian's experience of student life is as hilarious as it is painfully relatable. David's characters are a gift to theatre makers and audiences. Astutely drawn, they feel relatable because their individual passions and eccentricities sing with such verve. A motley group is united by a shared love of general knowledge and, following the unlikely structure of all great sports movies, University Challenge becomes their Everest. 

On stage, we felt that Starter for Ten could only exist as a musical. Music plays a leading role in the novel, each character defined by their own distinct taste: Brian hides his Kate Bush vinyls behind albums by The Cure; Rebecca favours The Cramps and The Cocteau Twins. We were adamant that only an original score could bring together these eclectic characters and do justice to their stories. Post-punk British music has inspired our songs, driven by synths, drum machines and 80s swagger. 

But amidst the music and comedy, we have fallen in love with a story that asks universal questions about class, grief and the power of community. Set in a decade that persists in living memory as a particularly divisive era, it has been a thrilling challenge to make a musical that champions teamwork and the collective - maybe sharing a sofa with someone who disagrees with you is a good place to start. 

Above all, we wanted this show to be bold and big-hearted. It is an honour to premiere this Bristol-based story at the Bristol Old Vic."  

Emma Hall (producer/co-writer) & Charlie Parham (director/co-writer), Starter for Ten

Photos by Marc Brenner

Starter for Ten plays 29 Feb – 30 Mar