INTERVIEW: Darren Clark talks F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button
cw: mention of war
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button A New Musical, is back following a limited run in 2019, where it received critical and audience acclaim. It will play at the Southwark Playhouse Elephant from 22nd May to 1st July 2023.
Discover a sleepy fishing harbour on the north coast of Cornwall, home to a most curious story.
Born in rather unusual circumstances, Benjamin Button is an old man, not at the end of his life, but at the beginning. Locked away from the world and branded a monster, Benjamin dreams of the chance to live a little life. More than anything, he dreams of love. With no hope of finding it, Benjamin resigns himself to a life of solitude, until, one day, a miracle occurs - the local barmaid, Elowen Keene. But as the years come and go, time and tide threaten to tear the two apart.
Experience this extraordinary, inspiring, and timeless tale of a love that defies all odds. Set to a thunderous, foot-stomping folk score, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button reminds us, no matter how much time we have, to make every second count.
I got to talk to Darren Clark ( music and co lyricist) about the inspiration for the show and how the music helps the story!
What is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button about?
Born as an old man in a small Cornish fishing village at the end of the first world war, Benjamin Button ages backwards. The story follows Benjamin throughout his life as he learns to navigate the challenges of life.
What is the key message of the show? And who is your target audience?
The show is a reminder to make the most of the time given to us.
The show is based around the 1921 short story by F Scott Fitzgerald, how do you think the show's themes reflect on today’s society?
The show’s questions are universal and deeply rooted in the human experience, so I think they’ll always be relevant to people regardless of when it is presented. Where do we belong? What does family mean to us? What do old and young mean? And how do we make the most of this life?
Where did you draw inspiration from for the music?
Cornish sea shanties and new folk artists such as Bellowhead and Seth Lakeman. Laura Marling and Kate Rusby were also a big inspiration. Mainly folk artists from the UK are what I listened to for the feel of the music, and then I was inspired by the theatrical storytelling of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim and the pop storytelling of Paul Simon and Joni Mitchell. So it’s an interesting mix…
How do you feel the music tells the story?
Music is intrinsic to every aspect of the show. The actors play and sing the entire score. It is informed by the rhythms and the sound of the sea which is a huge part of the storytelling. The music provides the underlying heart to the journey of Benjamin and Elowen through the years.
Where do you start in creating music / lyrics that turn the story into a Musical?
It always starts with the story. What is the moment that we are dramatising? How can we help make it dramatic with music/lyric? And then identifying the perspective that the moment is best told from. Me and my collaborator Jethro would discuss a moment, what is it trying to achieve? And then we would talk about the feel of the moment. Does it drive? Does it sit back? And then I’ll go away and start playing the guitar or the piano or just feeling a rhythm and start improvising lyrics before bringing it back to Jethro and we will work very intensely upon the lyric to ensure it’s always in the character voice, telling the story, that the choices of words are just right. That’s definitely the hardest, most intense part of the process. But ultimately provides the most satisfaction.
With regards to the lyrics, what is your favourite song and why?
There are a lot I enjoy, but I think my favourite is probably The Moon and the Sea. It follows the shape of a conditional love song (where two people are making it clear that they fancy each other, but are talking about it through metaphor and so are hedging their bets). It’s gentle and funny, but also portrays two people who desperately want to connect so there’s a lovely sense of tension in it.
Has anything changed within the show since its last run in 2019?
So much has changed. The heart of the show remains the same but Jethro and I have done a huge amount of reworking. There isn’t a single song or scene that hasn’t had fairly substantial dramaturgical surgery. Some songs have been cut and new ones have taken their place. We’ve worked really hard on tightening the story and trying to ensure that every dramatic beat is landing in the way we need it to. In addition to that, the 2019 show was 5 actor musicians, this time we’ve got 12, so there are brand new orchestrations, new staging, new characters. But even with all these changes, I hope people will still recognise the show they loved in 2019.
What is your favourite thing about the show?
You don’t often get to see an entire life on stage and I think my favourite thing is that I connect and recognise so many moments in Benjamin’s life and that makes it a very personal show.
Describe The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in one sentence?
It’s all just a matter of time.
Playing Benjamin Button and Elowen Keene are Olivier Award winner Jamie Parker and Molly Osborne. They lead the 12-strong actor-musician ensemble featuring Matthew Burns, Jonathan Charles, Oonagh Cox, Anna Fordham, Philippa Hogg, Damien James, Ann Marcuson, Jack Quarton, Benedict Salter, and Tonny Shim.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button is based on the short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby and The Tender and the Damned. With Book & Lyrics by Jethro Compton and Music & Lyrics by Darren Clark. It is directed by Jethro Compton who also designs the stage, with choreography and movement by Chi-San Howard, co-music supervision by Mark Aspinall and Darren Clark, costumes and associate stage design by Anna Kelsey, sound by Luke Swaffield, and musical direction by Mark Aspinall.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button Southwark Playhouse Elephant from 22nd May to 1st July 2023.Tickets now on sale at
Writer: Harry Brogan & Darren Clark