I am sure like many people during lockdown music has played an integral part of daily life. From my sons Hip Hop, to my daughters Indie, to my life long love affair with Jazz. Music has always been a vital part of the Idiot world, and we have been lucky enough to collaborate with some wonderful composers, including Zoe Rahman, Iain Jonestone, and Alicia Martel. In theatre music can be a seductive and powerful element, and can make poor material appear stronger than it actually is. We don’t rush to include music but try to let it in gradually, as ever remaining conscious of juxtaposition and surprise. I thought I would share ten iconic tracks that have featured in our work over the past twenty seven years. Enjoy.
Paul Hunter, Artistic Director, Told by an Idiot


TRACK 1: LA POUBELLE CUISINE by Gabriel Yared (soundtrack to Betty Blue)

We used this in our first show On The Verge Of Exploding (1993-95- Edinburgh Festival, LIMF, Scottish Highlands, Romania, South Africa) inspired by two pages in One Hundred Years Of Solitude. We had created a penultimate sequence that had all the physical and emotional desperation of farce. This involved the character of the young girl Meme desperately trying to find her lover Mauricio (a humble chicken thief), and warn him not to visit her at bath time that night, as her Mother had locked herself in the bathroom. The two lovers kept missing each other as they hurtled around the auditorium, and the stern faced Matriarch waited by the bath. The scene culminated in Mauricio dancing naked outside the bathroom with some bananas, and the Mother emptying the contents of the toilet bucket over the poor chicken thief. We wanted to find a piece of music that had the pulse and rhythm of farce, whilst at the same time working within the context of the show alongside the live accordion we were using. We felt La Poubelle Cuisine worked perfectly, it was also not an easily recognisable piece of music which helped. If we are using music from a film, we have always tried to avoid anything too identifiable, if you go for something well known this can make the audience blip out of the world you have worked hard to create.

TRACK 2: A QUOI BON by Les Negresses Vertes

This track was written and recorded by French band Les Negresses Vertes. Their cabaret like performances mixed punk, folk, reggae, ska, funk, flamenco, Algerian rai, Latin, and more. Laurent Marceau the French music producer described the band thus: "Imagine Edith Piaf jamming with the Pogues and playing some sort of Latin music, not taking themselves seriously and just having lots of fun."
We used this track in our second show I’m So Big (1995/1996- UK tour, BAC, Lulea festival Sweden). Inspired by Emir Kusterica’s extraordinary film Time of the Gypsies (1988), I’m So Big was a brutally comic fable that told the story of a young gypsy boy (Fredo) who was seduced by the city, corrupted by life, and betrayed by his family. In the prologue of the show Fredo is singing with his Grandma and trying to get some money from the audience. Suddenly they hear moaning and discover a man lying injured on a rock. To their surprise it is Fredo’s older brother Maximo, as the family are briefly reunited, Fredo becomes fascinated by the gun Maximo is carrying. Grandma tries to get Maximo to put the gun away but it accidentally goes off killing her. In that moment A Quoi Bon kicks in and its wild pulsing energy supports the dying Grandma as she begins to pull the huge cloth that has been covering the stage creating a rocky landscape. She keeps pulling until she has revealed an urban landscape comprising a real caravan, some battered old car seats, a tawdry fridge and half of a billboard poster advertising a better life. Grandma finally had hold of all the cloth, and disappeared off the back of the top of caravan, and our story began.
The music was perfect and the fact that the title translates as ‘What’s the point’ felt entirely appropriate.



Bill Evans was one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time. He was part of the Miles Davis band, and appeared on the iconic album Kind of Blue. After leaving Evans began his career as a leader, with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motion, a group now regarded as a seminal modern jazz trio. Evans recording of Lenord Bernstein’s Some Other Time continued to be a touch stone recording for him for the rest of his life, appearing regularly on his albums (notably on his duet record with Tony Bennet).

We used this track in our 1999 show Happy Birthday Mr. Deka D (Edin Festival, UK tour, Lyric Hammersmith, Berlin Festival). This was a new play we commissioned from acclaimed Nigerian playwright Biyi Bandele. The play was an elliptical chamber piece and a moving and comic look at the nature of love, and the affect that the past has on the present. As I lay under the floor of Naomi Wilkinson’s extraordinary set every night, I would listen to the haunting and beautiful piano of Bill Evans. It felt like the perfect introduction to our short fractured love story, and something of the atmosphere of this wonderful track seemed to imbue the whole brief evening.


TRACK 4: IN THE MORNING by Nina Simone

Nina Simone was one of the most eclectic artists of our time. In an age when placing a performer in a neat pigeonhole makes for easy reference, she was an anomaly. Exactly where did she fit in? Was she a jazz singer? A folk and blues gospel diva? A supper club chanteuse? She was all of these and none of them. You could never predict what you might find on a Nina Simone album, material could include compositions by George Harrison, Burt Bacharach, and Bob Dylan alongside Hoagy Carmichael, Jaques Brel, Jim Webb, Aretha Franklin and even Ike Turner. This kind of unpredictability has always appealed to us at TBAI, and Nina Simone’s extraordinary way of treating cover versions has influenced our approach to adaptation. In The Morning is itself a cover of a Bee Gees track. It is a beautiful version of the song, which Simone famously played at her concert on 7th April 1968 in New York the night after Martin Luther King was assassinated.

We used this track in our show A Little Fantasy (2002/3- UK tour, Soho Theatre, LIMF). Set against the back drop of the Great Depression, the show explored a certain type of Americana influenced by the wonderful short stories of Flannery O'Connor. At the heart of it all was an intense friendship between two women who lived outside the law. At the end of the show one of them appears to be lost in the ocean and Iain Johnstone’s wonderful score played through a final coda. As the audience left we played In The Morning, I firmly believe that the experience is not over until the last audience member has left the auditorium, and we spend a lot of time considering what music the public will leave to. In The Morning felt exactly right, it’s beautiful feeling of optimism cutting against the poignant ending of a relationship.


TRACK: 5 WALK AWAY by Matt Monro

Matt Monro was one of the most popular entertainers on the International music scene during the 1960s and 70s. He teamed up with the Beatles' producer George Martin and had many hits including the title song for the James Bond film From Russia With Love. Monro finished second in the 1964 Eurovision Song Contest, but was very taken by the Austrian entry Warum nur Warum so he recorded an English language version called Walk Away with lyrics by Don Black, it reached number four in the charts.

We used this track in our 2013 co production with the Royal Exchange of Ostrovsky's biting satire Too Clever By Half. It tells the story of a young scoundrel Gloumov who is out to get to the top of bourgeois society, regardless of what it takes to rise through the ranks, and who he steps on to get there. He seduces the well to do Kleopatra, he has the audacity to do this in her own house during a party her husband has organised. By the end of the scene Gloumov (Dyfan Dwyfor) has succeeded, Kleopatra (Hayley Carmichael) has fallen for him. Then we cut to Madam Tourisina’s drawing room, only we didn’t. I wanted to revel in the young mans audacity, the Royal Exchange is an extraordinary in the round space and I wanted to use every inch of it to give Gloumov the most glorious of exits.

Three figures in black entered the space, invisible to the characters on stage but seen by the audience. One of them threw a hat right across the space to be caught by Gloumov. Then another became a stool that Gloumov sat on without looking. An umbrella magically appeared when the rain came. A bottle of champagne was flown in, Gloumov unclipped it, looked at the label and then flamboyantly smashed it over his own head. A rug was unrolled into the space, Gloumov stood on it and was slowly pulled out of the space as if he was on a travelator. Finally Gloumov climbed onto a trapeze and was flown out as fireworks exploded. At the beginning of this sequence a record (Walk Away) had been put on a gramaphone, and the whole action was choreographed to the Matt Monro classic. Kleopatra and Gloumov never took their eyes off each other, until Gloumov had disappeared into the roof and Kleopatra had been swallowed by her own sofa. Walk Away was the perfect soundtrack, it’s lush, deeply romantic feel created the perfect juxtaposition to the heightened comic quality of the scene.


TRACK 6: BODY AND SOUL by Tony Bennet and Amy Winehouse 

Body and Soul is one of the most recorded of jazz standards, it was composed by Johnny Green with lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton. It was written for the British actress and singer Gertrude Lawrence, who introduced it to London audiences. Bennet and Winehouse followed in the footsteps of Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald in recording this iconic song, and their version received the Grammy award for best pop/duo/group performance. Bennet said of Winehouse:
"She took chances - and always different chances. It was thrilling to stand alongside her, and share the journey making a great song sound utterly fresh and distinctive."
We used Body and Soul in our co production with National Theatre Wales of The Dark Philosophers, (2010/11) inspired by the ink black comic tales of Gwyn Thomas. The piece was a funny, violent, and passionate depiction of a community teetering on the brink of humanity. Laura Rogers who played the part of the suffering Hannah, like Bennet and Winehouse, did a wonderful version of the song. So poignant and tender, sung standing at her small kitchen table, as all hell broke loose amongst the tiny terraced houses of the Welsh valleys. A brawl crashed through the walls of the different houses as Laura’s voice grew sweeter and fuller.
The combination of composer Iain Johnstone’s beautiful reworking of the song and Lauras heartbreaking delivery combined with the juxtaposition of the domestic violence created the perfect Idiot moment.


TRACK 7 - 16 MILITARY WIVES by The Decemberists 

The Decemberists are an American indie rock band from Portland Oregon. The group's songs range from upbeat pop to instrumentally lush ballards and often employ instruments like the accordion, keyboards and up right bass. They cite as influences the Irish band The Water Boys and the British punk outfit Souix and the Banshees. In their lyrics, the band eschews the introspection common to modern rock, instead favouring a storytelling approach or more overtly political material such as 16 Military Wives.
The song is perhaps the band's most direct critique of America, dealing with pointless deaths in wars, the obsession with celebrity culture, and the overall corruption of the country. 
We used this song in our show And The Horse You Rode In On (2011 co-production with the Barbican). The piece examined extreme acts of violence and the lengths people will go to for their beliefs. This sinister comedy of ineptitude was inspired by an eclectic variety of sources including an episode from the Gunter Grass novel Local Anesthetic, the Hitchcock film Sabotage and a Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs tries to stop an alien blowing up the Earth. Much of the show took place in the fictitious department store Grace Brothers from the 1970s sitcom Are You Being Served. The final scene showed the aftermath of a bomb in Grace Brothers planted by the German terrorist group the Bader Meinhof gang. The scene played out as the staff tried to come to terms with what had happened. The text used was transcribed from the victims who had been caught in the gas attacks on the Tokyo subway. As the scene played out we wanted to introduce a piece of music that was contemporary and political without being too well known. Our sound designer Adrienne Quartly suggested 16 Military Wives, and it worked perfectly.



Billy Paul was a Grammy award winning American soul singer, best known for his 1972 hit Me and Mrs Jones. He was described as ‘one of the criminally unmentioned proprietors of socially conscious post - revolution 60’s civil rights music’. He was particularly influenced by female jazz singers such as Nina Simone and Nancy Wilson. From sampling Malcom X and Martin Luther King to covering Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney, Billy Paul’s greatest moments were often his most unlikely. Only The Strong Survive was written by Jerry Butler, Kenny Gamble, and Leon Huff it was covered by Elvis in 1969 and then by Billy Paul in 1977.

We used this track in our co production with the Lryic Hammersmith of Aladdin (2001-2002). We wanted to do our own Idiot version of a pantomime, and were inspired by the anarchic, chaotic form of this classic family entertainment. I remember talking with the great designer and theatre maker Julian Crouch who said:

‘If pantomime didn’t exist, and someone invented it today it would be on at the ICA. It would be considered quite experimental’

I agree with this, with some of the elements being the audience and performers throwing things at each other, sing alongs with the audience divided in two, audience members birthdays being announced, and routines being in the show purely because the performers could do them. It feels like a radical and bold style. In our version of Aladdin the Princess was played by the wonderful Natasha Gordon (who would go onto write and star in the brilliant Nine Night), in an early scene she is locked in the Palace and the character of Jack the Janitor gives her some advice about seizing the moment. He did this through speaking the lyrics of Only The Strong Survive:

‘There’s going to be a whole lot of trouble in your life
Listen to me, get up off your knees
Cause only the strong survive’

As he spoke we morphed into the great voice of Billy Paul, and somehow it felt spot on for a family Christmas show.


TRACK 9: LEPORELLO'S ARIA in Act 1 Sc 2 of Don Giovanni

Don Giovanni is one of Mozart’s masterpieces and considered one of the greatest operas of all time. It is based on the legends of Don Juan a fictional libertine and seducer, by Spanish writer Tirso de Molina. In Act 1 scene 2 Don Giovanni and his servant Leporello hear a woman (Donna Elvira) singing of having been abandoned by her lover, on whom she is seeking revenge. Don Giovanni starts to flirt with her, but it turns out he is the former lover she is seeking. He shoves Leporello forward ordering him to tell Donna Elvira the truth about him, and then hurries away. Leporello’s comic aria that follows takes the form of a list of women that Don Giovanni has seduced across Europe.
We performed a live version of this aria in our reworking of Casanova (2007) with the then poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. We turned Casanova into a woman played by Hayley Carmichael, and in one scene the great lover visits the theatre to see a production of Don Giovanni and starts heckling the performer who is playing Leporello. Shouting that she, Casanova, has had more seductions than Don Juan, the actor singing gets more and more irritated and the performance is disrupted. Later in the piece Casanova shares a carriage with Mozart and we see the great lover give the great composer the idea for ‘Don Juan’.
The use of the aria and the figure of Mozart himself felt completely at home in our deconstructed look at the famous Venetian, inspired by Casanova’s own writings and the Fellini film starring Donald Sutherland.


TRACK 10-  GANGSTERS by The Specials 

Our final track features in our wild family sketch show Get Happy which we bring to the streets of South London as part of the 2020 Greenwich + Docklands International Festival.
Gangsters was released as a double A - side along with The Selecter by label mates The Selecter. It reached number 6 in the U.K. charts becoming the Specials and the 2 tone label’s first hit record. When the band emerged in 1979 they defined themselves against the far right, and their combination of black and white members was a direct rebuke to the NF and its racism. Jon Dennis said of the track:
‘To me it retains an aura of mystery that means it still holds my attention when I listen to it... it still sounds fresher and more exciting than anything’
In Get Happy a well dressed city gent attempts to dive off a step ladder into a child’s paddling pool all to a skank beat, a strange Middle Eastern infused melody, and Terry Hall's dead pan lyrics. It feels the perfect Idiot fusion of action and soundtrack.