From Playlist to Score - Composing the music for Starter for Ten

27 Feb 2023
Hatty Carman & Tom Rasmussen

Creating a brand-new British musical involves many moving parts – one of the main ones however is the music.

Starter for Ten’s music and lyrics have been co-written by Tom Rasmussen and Hatty Carman, who have been friends for over a decade. This is their first musical, and their unique partnership is reaping some amazing rewards.

We caught up with them just after they’d heard their music sung through for the first time in rehearsals by the full company.

How was that?

Tom: Wild!

Hatty: Overwhelming.

T: Our brains are being sung by a cast of twelve!

H: It’s the first time we’ve heard them all back-to-back. Hearing them in order was good to check the energy flows in the right places, and I think it does.

Kate Bush

How have you channeled the ’80s in your songs?

H: We were keen to get into the music that the characters would be listening to as they’re going about their lives.

We wanted to look at the mid-’80s – it’s set in ’85/’86, so we looked at what was going on with the British subcultures of the time – everything from goth to post-punk... we wanted to tap into as many subcultures as we could.

It’s easy when you think of the ’80s to immediately be drawn to what was happening in America – Whitney, Madonna... but we wanted to dig into the British scene.

The Cure


T: The Smiths, Bronski Beat, Kate Bush, The Cure, Strawberry Switchblade, Duran Duran, Adam Ant, Bananarama, Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Beastie Boys, Yazoo…

H: (interrupting)…We’re big on playlists, so we have a growing playlist of ’80s music.

T: Also, lyrically, the ’80s are quite story-ish – big shiny lyrics, things like ‘Gold’ – we wanted to capture those catchy, optimistic refrains.

H: There’s also a yearning for something better in there. Maybe because there was the backdrop of Thatcherism and the economic downturn – life was tough in the UK, especially if you were working class, which our lead is.

T: Hatty became obsessed with the rapid technological advances in music at that time – new analogue synths were being created all the time, and then digi synths came in.

H: I think ’83 was the DX7… (more techy chat about keyboards ensues) Analogue synths were big in the ’70s and early ’80s – they had a warm earthiness; we’ve tried to put those into Act 1, reflecting Brian’s childhood innocence, then gradually we move into crisper digital synth sounds for Act 2.

T: There were so many rich genres in the ’80s in music and so it’s been amazing to approach that through character, synth style and lyric… we really hope we’ve done ‘The 80s’ justice!

Will it feel like a musical theatre show?

H: It is the ’80s obvs, but because it’s a musical, we also have to make sure it’s a sort of hybrid. We’ve done that through characters like Alice, who loves Musical Theatre.  A lot of the quiz numbers are “musical theatre” – quite intense and wordy, complicated... we hope there’s a hybrid of the groove of the ’80s going into a Musical Theatre world.

Full company of Starter for Ten in rehearsals. Photo by Marc Brenner

Thigh High – the band you were in together – was described as “punk-pop glam-rock”. Have you brought any of that to Starter for Ten?

H: That was how we met – I approached Tom and said do you want to be in a band with me? That was 10 years ago, when we started writing music. Thigh High was very underground in London. It was always very theatrical, and we were always obsessed with telling stories about strange characters. So, the transition to Musical Theatre felt strangely natural, even though we were basically an operatic queer punk band!

Hatty Carman & Tom Rasmussen

T: We were frustrated back then about how few queer stories there were being told – we wanted to write stories about angry murderous grandmas and a trans opera singing comet who falls in love with a rocket, so being able to write songs about characters in this musical is bringing out a lot of the same practice – imagining a whole world, imagining how things could be. There’s an innate politics to that work, and I hope we’ve brought it to this.

We hope the whole thing becomes about love and respect for others and community – that’s the same thing we were trying to feel in our band – part of a community, with a hope for something better.

H: When were in the band, we really wanted to make it big – we thought we’d be huge! That didn’t happen, we were underground and DIY... The story of the musical is similar – Brian has an aspiration, and he thinks if that happens, it will solve everything. But what he ends up with instead is friendship. The message is about not pushing yourself to the front and shining alone, as it won’t be fun if you’re not with your friends, sharing that experience. You might not get what you set out to, but you might get something better, that is about community and sharing – so we hope we’ve brought some of that Thigh High spirit to the musical in an unexpected way.

T: The message is unique – it’s a show that you think will be about the success of one person, but actually that isn’t what happens. A lot of stories are about one person prevailing from adversity. This musical questions whether that’s the only story we should be telling – is individual success really worth the price?

Sing through with full company in Starter for Ten rehearsals

Starter for Ten plays 29 Feb – 30 Mar