Terry Jones sets sail on voyage with the Owl and Pussycat
The Monty Python star has just finished a libretto for an opera version of Edward Lear’s poem
Since Terry Jones got into writing opera, his biggest complaint about the genre has been the lack of drama. He once complained that Cinderella the pantomime would have more “psychological truth” in it than the opera version he had witnessed at Glyndebourne.
So, after being asked to write the libretto for an operatic version of Edward Lear’s The Owl And The Pussycat, he decided to give the story a bit of Python twist.
“As I read through the poem again, I noticed there wasn’t much dramatic tension. The only part where you don’t know what is going to happen is when they can’t find a ring. But then, of course, there is the piggy-wig. I thought I would write the prequel to the story in the poem. Here you have a cat going off with a bird and so I thought it would be good to have them confused about why they like each other until they realise they have a lot in common, like they both like to eat small birds.”
The opera is being staged on a canal boat, which will stop off around the country. It floats into Little Venice this month featuring Westminster Choir.
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Jones wrote the libretto in a week for the opera, which is being staged by the Royal Opera House. He concocted the story of how the two eponymous characters came to be in a position where they wanted to be married. “I am quite well practised at writing nowadays, so I just get on with it,” he says.
The already surreal story takes a Jones-style slant, with features like the League of Feline Decency, who are on the case of the pussycat for pursuing love outside of the usual social circles.
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It is a logical step from his work with the Pythons and his last opera, The Doctor’s Tale, about a successful doctor who is struck from the register for being a dog. Humour is his way of approaching every project. “I don’t suppose there is any other way of approaching things is there?” laughs the 70-year-old.
Before Jones moved into opera, he hadn’t seen so much of it. He admits that not much has changed on that front and he would rather be creating culture than absorbing it.
“I don’t actually go out to the theatre much, I’m too busy with my daughter. She’s two and a half, almost three, so she runs rings around me. She’s great, she will be starting school soon. I don’t really read many books, I read Mike Palin’s new book, of course.” Asked what he enjoys on the box and the former small screen star admits. “Well I don’t have a television either.” Does he do anything in his locality of Highgate? “We invite the neighbours round, if that counts.”
So what does he do? Well he writes and writes and writes, it seems. Late in 2011, he published his most recent book Evil Machines with new publishing tool Unbound – a website where authors can pitch to have their products funded directly by the public. “I was asked by my friends, who had set up the site, if I wanted to put anything on there. I had Evil Machines so I thought I’d give it a go.” Of course he admits that with his Python name it may have been easier to achieve the funding, but he insists its not just for well-established authors. “They encourage new and unpublished authors to submit their work too. It’s a good way of cutting out the middle man and talking directly to the readers about what they want.” Will he release another book on the site? “Well I don’t have one yet, but I might.”
In fact, at the moment he is preparing for the Python movie Absolutely Anything, which, after much speculation about whether it was to go ahead, is due to start filming at the end of this year. As with Holy Grail and Life of Brian, Jones will take a directorial role on the film due for release in 2014 he says. “It’s enough to keep me busy for a while.”
T The Owl And The Pussycat comes to Little Venice on July 25 as part of the London 2012 Festival. It will be performed from 2.30pm to 6.30pm Tickets are free and can be booked at http://festival.london2012.com/events/