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Kaz Moloney - Longitude Interview

From writer and producer Kaz Moloney comes an epic new musical about John Harrison, the genius who solved the problem of longitude and transformed seafaring forever. This summer, Upstairs at the Gatehouse will hold the world premiere of Longitude, telling the incredible story of 18th century carpenter and clockmaker Harrison, who is buried nearby in St John’s Parish Church, Hampstead.

Longitude tells the unbelievable tale of Harrison’s endeavours to solve the problem of estimating longitude, and saving lives that were being lost at sea across the world. A humble carpenter, Harrison invented a revolutionary clock, the marine chronometer, which could calculate longitude at sea – opening up trade routes and enabling safe passage across treacherous waters.

Over four decades, Harrison faced enormous odds and had to overcome immense challenges. He submitted the chronometer for the Longitude Prize, worth £20,000, but the committee refused to reward him as his invention was so remarkable they didn’t believe it. From spurious sea voyages to test his inventions, people stealing his prototypes and changing rules, Harrison fought hard for his invention to be supported, but his inability to argue his case worked against him.

Longitude features original book by Robert Trippini and new book by Kaz Moloney, with lyrics by Kaz Moloney, and music by Kaz Moloney, William Godfree and David Moloney. A portion of the profits from Longitude will be donated to the RNLI.

The production will run at Upstairs at the Gatehouse from Thursday 13th June until Sunday 7th July. Ahead of the run we chatted with Kaz Maloney to discuss the piece.

Where did your career begin?
I wouldn’t call it a career. I was just a stage-struck young girl. I acted and sang in Mrs Robbie’s annual pantomimes in Greystones, my village in Ireland, when I was a teenager. Then I continued acting with Trinity College University Players and then in the East Midlands where I was doing my PhD I directed my first play at De Montfort University. But for forty years I turned my back on the theatre and had a career as a business psychologist specialising in leadership.

Were there any people or performances that had a big impact on you?
My mother took me to see South Pacific and West Side Story when I was young and I was hooked.
Where did your journey with Longitude begin?
My father was a navigator, pilot and sailor, so most of our childhood conversations as a family were about going somewhere adventurous and coming home safely.  When I read Longitude by Dava Sobell, I was fascinated by the story but more intrigued by the man John Harrison, the tragic hero of our drama.

Why do you think this story makes for a good stage musical?
Plays tell the story in words. But when you introduce music you take the audience through a heightened journey. When a character sings of their predicament, love or anguish, confusion or determination, you hear it more through the visceral pull of their song. This story, full of those emotions, was obviously appealing to me as a musical.

How did you approach adapting the book by Robert Trippini?
Roberto Trippini wrote the first book of the musical and offered some of the story lines. But the draft that I did took the book in a different direction. It wasn’t an adaptation really, more a brand new draft of my vision.

How do you go about placing the songs within the story?
Of course, received wisdom is that you place a song where the character can no longer express themselves through words alone. It has to be sung. But there are other considerations. Has it been a while since we had a song, for example? Is this song too far away from the interval to be remembered and talked about in the bar? Where is the arc of the drama leading at this point and would a song move the story along better than dialogue? Then there are the go-to songs that we expect: the opening number that sets the scene, the I want number that gets us rooting for a protagonistthe comedy song, etc. etc. For me, it’s more important to hold the audience with you than to stick to the rules.

What is the biggest challenge of writing a book for a new musical?
Writing anything new is fun. I’ve completed one novel and three non-fiction books, but that’s only you and the page. So not such a challenge. To write a good novel you need  a cracking story, believable characters, a satisfying resolution. Then imagine turning that novel into a play with characters, and putting it on a stage.  Then add music and write song lyrics. Then ask your actors and singers to dance. It’s really quite the most complex of art forms. So, I guess the biggest challenge for me was the number of people and art forms involved. I was unable to read or write music very well when I began this journey, so I educated myself with the help of tutors and software. I went on Willy Russell’s course on Musical Theatre and Ray Davis’s course on Song Writing. I did two years at Book, Music & Lyrics honing my craft and have attended their Advance Programme for the last 3 years. So my confidence has grown. But I’ve needed an awful lot of help and support and am grateful to dozens of people for their patience and kindness.
If you were a biscuit, what would you be and why?
I’d be a Florentine. Lots of seeds, fruit and nuts and a dribble of chocolate on top. Why? Because I think I’m aware I need to eat well but like the occasional indulgence.

Kaz Moloney

What keeps you inspired?
The people around me. My husband for his unflagging energy and ideas. My brother for his beautiful music and support on Longitude. The actors and crews that know what they are doing and go about it so professionally to make Longitude amazing.

What do you hope an audience takes away from seeing Longitude?
I hope they go away feeling that we need to pay more attention to those who are ignored, abused, unheard because their voices are soft, or difficult to understand. And that we embrace the change they call for with more openness. I hope also that they have used up an entire pack of tissues.

Longitude plays at Upstairs at the Gatehouse from Thursday 13th June until Sunday 7th July. Tickets are available from You can find out more about the show by visiting the website

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