What's the score, Peter Pan?

The Oscar-winning composer who has created the music of Neverland
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The Independent Culture

Stephen Warbeck is the Oscar-winning composer who scored the films Shakespeare in Love, Billy Elliot and Captain's Corelli's Mandolin. He also composed the music for the Royal Shakespeare Company productions The Cherry Orchard and The White Devil, and has written music for more than 40 television projects, including Prime Suspect. Now Warbeck has written his first ballet score, for David Nixon's Northern Ballet Theatre production of Peter Pan.

Stephen Warbeck is the Oscar-winning composer who scored the films Shakespeare in Love, Billy Elliot and Captain's Corelli's Mandolin. He also composed the music for the Royal Shakespeare Company productions The Cherry Orchard and The White Devil, and has written music for more than 40 television projects, including Prime Suspect. Now Warbeck has written his first ballet score, for David Nixon's Northern Ballet Theatre production of Peter Pan.

Such a full schedule can be a mixed blessing. "Film composers may wonder where their own voice or style actually is," Warbeck says. "Different films require so many different approaches that I have to have many voices. If I was asked to write a concert piece, I might find myself wondering what my true voice was."

Peter Pan had its world premiere in December 2004 at the Grand Theatre, Leeds; now it is coming to Sadler's Wells, London. The junior principal artist Christian Broomhall and the soloist Simon Kidd will share the role of Peter Pan, and have been training with the theatrical flying experts Flying by Foy. Nixon, NBT's artistic director, knew Warbeck was the man to provide a new score. "He rang me up because he liked my music for Shakespeare in Love," Warbeck says.

Was it a welcome change from film scores? "The whole process was less different than I predicted," he says. " Peter Pan is very episodic and eventful. It is less of an abstract sweep of one's own expression and response to Peter Pan, and more a serving of a particular story. The major difference is that there is nothing to look at, unlike in film projects, when most of the music is written after filming. I had about three conversations with David and four pages of the scenario. After that, all I had were the images of Peter Pan in my imagination."

Warbeck began to play the piano when he was four. "The first thing I can remember about writing music is that when my mum and dad used to have arguments, not very often, I used to go and play on the black notes, because I thought it was sadder," he recalls. Now, he has less time to compose music for himself. "If you are a composer mainly for film and television, your time gets rapidly taken up with those commissioned projects."

But he does find time to write and perform with his anarchic pub band, The Kippers; he has another small band, The Metropolitan Water Board, but they have played only one gig. "There is a whole pile of material for the band, but it is very difficult to get everyone together at the same time," Warbeck says, describing the music as "a mix of Kurt Weill, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Daa Band and fringe café music". Warbeck also has a new ensemble, The Warbeck Decet, who will play "concert music and less well-known film arrangements".

'Peter Pan', Sadler's Wells, London EC1 (0870 737 7737) 31 March to 10 April; and Palace Theatre, Manchester (0870 401 3000) 10 to 14 May ( www.northernballettheatre.co.uk)

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