Chocolate Cake | Meet the Composer

11 Jul 2018

What would a children’s show be without music and songs? Ahead of Chocolate Cake arriving on our stage in just under a fortnight, we asked the show’s composer, Barb Jungr, some questions...

You’re first and foremost a jazz and contemporary cabaret artist. How did your music career begin?

It’s so long ago I can barely remember! I always sang as a child and played the violin at school and in the orchestra, and I wrote plays for the class and did sketches and comedy things. It was always there. When I left university I joined a band and never stopped. From there it just all went on. I always wrote songs. I have notebooks from being a teenager with lyrics and poetry. Words and music were always with me.

What prompted you to begin writing music for children’s theatre?

I was asked to write lyrics for a Cal McCrystal pantomime in Newbury and I came up with Fernando’s Backwards Donkey – who goes Aw Ee instead of Ee Aw, obviously! That was the song everyone joined in. I consider it a high point of my writing career!

I love panto and I did I think three with Cal directing at Newbury Corn Exchange. From there I was asked to do the lyrics for The Jungle Book for Birmingham Stage Company and then I had the idea for The Fabulous Flutterbys which I took to Pete Glanville who had just stared at Little Angel and he mentored me through that and we collaborated again. It’s wonderful working with Pete because he is so full of ideas and mischief and he brings the best out of everybody.

Children’s theatre called me, and I answered. I love it. I work with such beautiful people. And new audiences. The responsibility is enormous!

You’ve adapted books by acclaimed writers Julia Donaldson (The Singing Mermaid), Helen Stephens (How to Hide a Lion) and Michael Rosen (We’re Going on a Bear Hunt – and now Chocolate Cake). How does a stage adaptation work?

We use the books as launch pads and the lyrics tend to work to drive plot forward or to express emotional feelings of the characters, as they would in a musical. The books have usually got such strong narratives that they allow us to expand into the theatrical space with the work.

What’s been the best audience reaction to your music?

It’s wonderful when spontaneous dancing occurs. That’s the best! Or sometimes singing along, or clapping along. I love that.

Have you ever trod the boards as an actor too?

No. I am a singer, musician and writer. I think that’s enough for anyone. I did do something with Amici Dance Company, the multi-ability group led by Wolfgang Stange, for Lyric Hammersmith at the millennium, and it was a wonderful experience, but it’s not my usual milieu.

I think actors and puppeteers are amazingly talented and I admire their gifts. Our Chocolate Cake cast is a case in point, it’s a joy to work with such lovely people and see them bring the characters, songs and music to life daily.

Chocolate Cake comes to Bristol Old Vic 24–26 Jul. Book your tickets here