Originally titled The Beau Defeated when it was written in 1700, this new production of The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich opened to wonderful reviews in April 2018 at the RSC.
As well as composing the score, Grant was commissioned to write six new songs for the production, directed by Jo Davies, designed by Colin Richmond and starring Sophie Stanton as Mrs Rich the upwardly mobile title character.
The article below was written by Grant for the programme to explain the musical aspirations of the show.
The Beau Defeated has a couple of songs in it, the beginnings of the ballad of Delia and Strephon and a hint that Elder Clerimont might sing a hunting song; but we wanted a more musical world for our production of The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich. In order to put Mrs Rich more front and centre in the play we decided to give the audience some alone time with her, and if she was going to reveal her private thoughts to you and confess her deepest desires and fears then it seemed to us that song would be a good way into that. So Jo and I identified four places in the play where we could find her left alone on stage and after big enough events to warrant her bursting into song. One of the challenges was to make sure she had motivation enough to sing. The old cliche “we sing when we’ve run out of words and we dance when we’ve run out of song” is a cliche for a reason; it’s true. To justify the leap from spoken word to song, the passions have to run high enough to allow the heightened form. That doesn’t mean that the songs aren’t truthful, just that they concentrated, undiluted. They are moments where the character is under the magnifying glass so you need to make sure the character has something interesting and important enough to sing about. I often think songs are like “Matrix time”, the world can stop and we can see beat by beat into the heart of a character in a way that speech rarely allows us to. What we wanted for Mrs Rich was for the audience to see her glee, her insecurities, her anger, her childish delight, her steely drive for advancement. All things that are there in the play but often hidden under a mask. The songs allow the mask to slip for a couple of minutes and for us to see a little of the real Mrs Rich in all her desperate, witty, ambitious glory.
We decided that the musical language would have something of the cabaret about it; that most intimate of forms where singer and audience are truly equals - in the same room, having a conversation. The music wouldn’t be period authentic but would rather support a more tangential approach to her personality. I wanted it to be cheeky, full of life, sometimes unruly and highly changeable in character. I wanted the score to wear a mask like almost all the characters do in the play and pretend to be something it wasn’t, so I decided on a quartet of saxophones, a harpsichord and percussion. The saxes really want to be a string quartet in the way that Mrs Rich wishes to be part of the Beau Monde and for the most part they succeed, but occasionally their wilder side bursts through. The harpsichord provides the formality of the setting that the saxes crash through when they forget to behave.
The world of Mrs Rich and restoration comedy is so bright and vivid, so full of characters living right to the edge of themselves that we hope you’ll agree the addition of music and songs, of saxes pretending to be violins and harpsichords trying to keep them in check, isn’t so much of a stretch.
"Grant Olding has written a series of beguiling songs, scored for four saxophones that aspire to the condition of a string quartet, mainly given to Mrs Rich. The result is to transform her from a stock figure of fun into a woman whose desire for upward mobility we begin to understand." **** The Guardian
"Grant Olding has written some new songs for Mrs Rich that jazz it up, quite literally. “Sod the riches, wear the britches,” chortles Mrs Rich, with Stanton batting her eyelashes and playing the audience for all she’s worth." **** The Times
"Sophie Stanton as Mrs Rich plays the audience with a similar mastery and quirkiness to Grant Olding’s harpsichord-and-saxophone-quartet score; Olding has also penned a clutch of cabaret-style “soliloquy” numbers for Stanton/Rich, with sometimes self-parodically anachronistic lyrics (“Break out the Bolly/For a woman of quali-/-ty”)." **** FT
"Augmented by Grant Olding’s original songs (boasting plenty of sax-appeal) and Colin Richmond’s stylish design – period backdrops with graffiti’d indications of the locations - Davies' production strenuously argues the case for the play’s inclusion in the repertoire, every performance, among the intellectually superior serving-class particularly, a zesty one. "
"What director Jo Davies has done, pacing it up , camping along and adding new music-hall style songs by Grant Olding, is to create a perfect showcase for a dozen wonderful stage comediennes: it is a masterclass for fearlessly funny women." **** Theatrecat
"Grant Olding has composed some songs for Mrs Rich, to allow her to share her thoughts with the audience - this is a great way to slightly break up what is quite a wordy play, and works well alongside the musical scene transitions that smoothly adjust the set ready for the next piece of action." **** BroadwayWorld
"Grant Olding's music and songs are revealed as one of the greatest delights of the production, beautifully written and delivered with clear relish by Stanton and the rest of the sizeable cast. The score is performed by a harpsichord, percussion and – in a masterstroke of inspiration – a saxophone quartet 'pretending', as Olding puts it in the programme, to be a string quartet but occasionally forgetting to behave. The songs are clever and witty, Olding's score pure musical theatre. I longed for many more of these sparkling interventions." *** Whatsonstage