Tonbridge pair’s war hero musical takes over Abbey Road
by Andy Tong | 20th December 2018
TWO former Tonbridge pupils have become the first artists to take over the renowned Abbey Road Studio One in London for a musical.
James Beeny and Gina Georgio staged four performances of The Dreamers at the iconic venue this month, with a cast of West End stars.
The show tells the story of a young, inexperienced officer called Reggie in the First World War.
On a voyage to the battlefield Reggie, the son of a rich and powerful public figure, faces rebellion from his unit after a bitter conscript called Jack stirs up trouble.
But the two soldiers are thrown together in bravery and comradeship after their ship collides with another craft and sinks.
The narrative is based on the true story of Reggie Salomons, son of Sir David Salomons, who lived at the eponymous estate in Southborough.
The Army captain died when HMS Hythe sunk off the coast of Gallipoli in 1915 after it collided with another troop ship.
A total of 128 men from Southborough and High Brooms, in the 1st/3rd Kent Field Company, lost their lives; 24 of them are named on the Southborough War Memorial.
Ms Georgio, 28, who attended The Judd School, and Mr Beeny, 32, who went to Tonbridge School, both live in Tunbridge Wells. They came across the tale of heroism and tragedy by chance.
Mr Beeny said: “We both wanted to write about a war hero, so we looked up local stories. That’s how we found out about Reggie Salomons.
“It was quite odd, there was very little information, just one web page really.
“But it was fascinating to read about such a tragic tale and such an incredible man.”
They were playing in a band called the Virgin Soldiers in 2014 and were gigging regularly at The Forum in Tunbridge Wells.
But they had always wanted to write a musical together and decided to dedicate themselves to that. “It was a coincidence because we had just played a gig at Salomons Estate,” he said.
The subject matter may seem unusual for a musical but the writers had a different perspective.
“Most musicals are lighthearted but I wouldn’t have chosen to be a writer of musicals with dancing and that sort of thing,” said Mr Beeny.
‘They told us it was a hard place to break ground and do something new, and we did it’
“We’re more interested in serious topics – great music with a story displayed on stage, like Les Miserables or the work of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The duo had recorded an album at Abbey Road with the Stars Foundation for Cerebral Palsy. All proceeds from The Dreamers go to the charity.
Mr Beeny said: “We were looking for a venue so we thought, ‘why not the world’s most famous studio?’ We were stunned when they said we could do so.
“It was the first time in history that they used Studio One as a theatre. They told us it’s a hard place to break ground and do something new, and we did it.”
The creative process was four years in the making. “We put together a group of local singers who we’d met over the years and played concept gigs at the Assembly Hall for four days in 2014.
“It was a chance for us to see what we wanted to do with it. Then we were asked to take it up to the St James theatre in London.”
To take it to the next level, they recruited established stars in the capital. “Almost every cast member was a West End lead,” said Mr Beeny.
“We just approached them and they agreed to do it. I think a big factor in that was there aren’t that many opportunities to play a new role, a first, and many of the cast want to go on with it.”
The Dreamers was directed by Jean-Pierre van der Spuy, who had been involved in Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and Phantom of the Opera.
The show was watched by packed audiences of 250, and Mr Beeny described the feeling of seeing their work come to life with such an entourage in such a world famous setting as ‘overwhelming – that’s really the only word for it’.
“We were massively consumed by the stress, but there were numerous occasions when we looked at each other, at the cast and where we were. You let the music wash over you, but I did get tingles more than once.”
So what’s next for the dynamic duo? Ms Georgio said: “We always love to release music with the band but we want to keep in musical theatre.
“We have other potential story lines, and the next one will probably be something fictional.”
First they want to take The Dreamers into the West End. But they have not lost sight of where it all started.
Ms Georgio said: “The story enabled us to really make a personal connection. It makes you wonder, if it had been you and your friends, what would have happened then?”
The tragedy of HMS Hythe
The letter from an eyewitness on HMS Hythe to Sir David Lionel Salomons came to light in 2012, revealing how his only son refused to leave a sinking ship off the coast of Turkey.
“At the beginning, the two vessels clung to each other for a few minutes and about 50 men and several officers scrambled across on to the other vessel,” wrote Major Alfred Ruston.
“But though Captain Salomons was warned to get over also himself, he would not do so and I am sure that it was because he would see his beloved men off first.”