Cameron Mackintosh Resident Composer: Dylan Townley’s Blog

January 25th, 2024

Dylan Townley

I started my role as the Octagon Theatre, Bolton’s Cameron Mackintosh Resident Composer in October 2023, and it’s been a brilliant and busy experience so far. I was given a warm Bolton welcome and feel like one of the team. Getting to take part in activities across the whole building is a great contrast to gig-based freelance life, and it presents lots of different ways to make music – from community sessions and youth productions to professional shows in the main theatre, and support developing my own work.

The first project was to write music for the studio show ‘Alfie the Elf’s Christmas Rescue’, a delightful festive caper for younger children and families created by The Big Tiny. During this run I also took part in a storytelling workshop with families who had come to see the show; we used various percussion instruments to create a wintery soundscape, and I provided an improvised accompaniment on piano while Laura the storyteller turned the kids into reindeer and snow people. A standard day at work!

I’m also creating music with the Octagon’s youth theatre company as they rehearse Charlie Josephine’s play ‘Orchestra’ for the National Theatre’s Connections festival. It’s been a joy to get thoughts and reactions to the music from talented young people, and to shape the soundtrack according to their vision of the show.

The biggest project of the residency so far is composing for an epic production of ‘Animal Farm’ in the main theatre, opening in February 2024. The play is funny and dark, poignant and sometimes grotesque, and I’ve loved creating music in different styles to reflect this. The cast are great singers, the production looks amazing, and Iqbal Khan’s directing is really powerful. I’m excited for audiences to see it in Bolton, and then on the road in Derby and Hull; its themes of freedom, propaganda and abuse of power seem especially urgent now.

It’s a privilege to be welcomed into a lively and creative producing theatre, full of fantastic people across all departments. I’m grateful to MMD, MTN and the Mackintosh Foundation for supporting UK theatre composers with rich opportunities like this. To anyone thinking of applying for a future residency, I would say go for it – though I’m not sure any other theatre throws a karaoke party quite like the Octagon!