Recent Mountview graduate Olivia Wormald makes her professional debut this month in a regendered stage adaptation of The Mozart Question, Michael Morpurgo’s 2007 children’s book which she herself read as a child. We talked to her about inspiration and how music can save lives. Time to get booking!
The Mozart Question is a story of family, recovery from tragedy, and childhood discovery of music. The great violinist Paola Levi tells the story of discovering her talent, and how, at the same time, she learned the way that her parents escaped the holocaust. The story unfolds as we also hear, played live, some of the music that influenced her life.
In Michael Morpurgo‘s novel, and Simon Reade‘s original stage adaptation, the violinist was male: Paolo Levi. Here, the role has been regendered as Paula and is performed by actor-musician Olivia Wormald, making her professional debut and playing an instrument that is likely a holocaust survivor itself. This new production at Camden Fringe is directed by Lata Nobes and produced by Lucia Cox.
Talking to… Olivia Wormald
Olivia Wormald trained as an Actor Musician at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, primarily on Violin/Viola. Theatre whilst training includes Gower in Pericles, Billie in Our House, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dead Dog in a Suitcase and The Music Man. Workshops include The Throwaways (The Other Palace). The Mozart Question marks Olivia’s professional debut.
How did you first get into music?
I started playing the Violin at age six at my school. The teachers were fantastic at inspiring us at such a young age to practise and we played many small concerts. I got my first proper violin age nine and, similar to Paula in the play, I knew that instrument was meant for me. I’ve had lessons ever since with a variety of fantastic teachers. I also took up Piano and Viola at school, learning through a classical background and giving me an amazing foundation in music theory. When I joining Mountview, I was able to branch out, learning Accordion, Mandolin, Bass and other instruments for actor-musician shows.
Music inspires people through life. I’ve always loved how diverse it is, I love Irish folk music as much as Mendelssohn. Sometimes when you can’t say things aloud, you can say them with music instead.
Why did you do at Mountview?
I studied on Mountview’s fantastic Actor Musician course from 2016-2019. When applying to drama schools, I knew I wanted to do an Actor Musician course. I couldn’t imagine life without acting or music so being given the opportunity to develop both together into a specific skill was a dream.
I’d always been told you choose the drama school as much as it chooses you, and that was true with Mountview. As soon as I stepped into the building for my first audition, I knew it was a place I felt alive, creative and it excited me. A week later, I’d accepted my place on the three-year BA degree.
Over my time there, I worked with some amazing people, especially my wonderful class of 16. Some highlights for me were The Jungle Book adaptation we performed in first year, where I played an accordion-playing panther, Bagheera; being able to play my dream role, Puck, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and a full Actor Musician version of Pericles, directed by the fantastic John Ward with music written and directed by David Hewson, which was our first public show of third year.
How do you feel to now be making your professional debut?
I am so excited that The Mozart Question will be my professional debut. Firstly, it has been a challenge as an actor to work on a one-woman show, having never done anything like it before. Secondly, I can’t think of anything better to allow me to develop my actor-violinist work, the piece has such varied music; it has been great to work across genres I am not used to. Working with the amazing Lata Nobes has been fantastic. She’s so inspiring and is a phenomenal director, she’s developed me as an actor and taught me so much in a short rehearsal period. As with any hopeful actor, it takes a lot to get to this point in life, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.
Have you read Michael Morpurgo’s book?
My mum bought me The Mozart Question for Christmas one year, and I have always remembered it. The story really spoke to me about the power music can have to save lives, an idea that’s very special to me, especially growing up as a violinist. I’ve always enjoyed Michael Morpurgo’s writing, his characters are always so perfectly written. From the amazing and epic War Horse to a personal favourite of mine, The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, he has always been one of my favourite writers.
Tell us about your role.
There are four characters in the play, all of which I play throughout the show. The story is told from the perspective of Paula Levi, who is a world-renowned violinist from Venice. The audience get to see her age nine and age 49, as she tells them the secret she has been keeping.
The other characters are Mama, Papa and Benjamin: all of whom have their own outlooks on life and also music. They all have a part to play in Paula’s successful music career, all inspiring her to new places at different stages in her life.
Why has the character of Paola been regendered?
I spoke with Lata about this during the process. It is rare to see non-comedy, female-led solo shows that aren’t about gender or a love story. Lata explained how, when she was researching, she discovered that many of the sources and accounts about the Auschwitz orchestra are from females, so it felt appropriate that Paulo would become Paula. The most important thing is that the gender doesn’t matter in this story. It has been a fantastic experience to work on a regendered character, especially as the creative team is also all-female.
What’s special about the instrument you’re playing in the show?
My violin was made in approximately 1910 in Germany. It’s a beautifully made instrument, based on a famous Stradivarius. However, just below the neck is an etched Jewish Star of David, perhaps hinting to its past owners. As it is so old, its past is sadly untraceable, but I often imagine the journeys it has been through and hope, perhaps, it has helped its previous owners to survive, similarly to the story in The Mozart Question. It has been part of my life since I was nine and I’m so glad that I get to tell its story as well as Paula’s in this show.
What music do you play in the show?
I play a variety of music! From classical to traditional Klezmer. My favourite piece in The Mozart Question is a reduction of the Adagietto in Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, made famous in the film Death in Venice. I have a connection to all the pieces I’m playing, something I think is so important to an Actor Musician.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I really hope the story speaks to the audience as much as it did to me when I first read it. I am so excited to bring it from page to stage, I hope you enjoy it!
As part of this year’s Camden Fringe, The Mozart Question runs from 13 to 18 August 2019 at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, 1 North Road, Highgate, London N6 4BD with performances at 7pm on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, 8.45pm on Wednesday and Friday and Sunday at 6.45pm. Tickets are priced £10-12. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!
Full festival programme
For details on all 300+ shows in the 2019 Camden Fringe programme, visit the festival websiteClick here