Toby Huelin has genius hair and a musical laugh; deep, infectious, with an accompanying shoulder shake. Originally from the Isle of Jersey, Toby emmanates up-and-coming musician in his appearance. His pre-Oxford years were filled writing songs and incidental music for other theatre projects (including a rock opera version of Orwell’s Animal Farm) alongside musical directing and keyboard performances in various local theatre productions.
Now a third year music student at St Anne’s, Toby is best known around Oxford for co-writing A Theory of Justice: The Musical. The show centers around the philosopher John Rawls, who, during a search for writing material, journeys back in time to court Fairness, dodge Robert Nozick’s evil plans and converse with a canonical selection of philosophers from Plato to Mill. This production, which ostensibly presented philosophical theory in an accessible form was hugely successful in Oxford and at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. Its success has resulted in attention from acting troupes internationally who are interested in taking A Theory of Justice abroad.
Toby listens to “so much music” that his compositional pieces are an indistinguishable milieu of them all. He’s not fussy about genre and would be happy to spend his future career writing anything, as long as it’s “composition in some form”, from musical theatre to popsongs, or music for television or the concert hall. However, his favorite figures from musical theatre include Jason Robert Brown, Andrew Lloyd Webber (he’s a particular fan of Jesus Christ Superstar) and Richard Taylor to a range of modern music, One Direction included.
However, Toby mentions this “pop” taste features little in his new production. Putting aside his array of musical talent and interest, I sat down to delve into something more specific, Toby’s next theatrical project, In Her Eyes. Rather than building on the success of Theory of Justice, this new production is going in the opposite direction: “I love challenging myself to write something different”, Toby explains. In Her Eyes, or IHE, is a story about “Isolation and truth, rumors and gossip”. In terms of subject matter at least, IHE stands out from the current musical scene, as “not a “jazz-hands” musical” but something “much more thoughtprovoking”. Not your conventional musical,the composition of In Her Eyes followed on from a discussion with Huelin’s family about “a similar situation”. Written in just two weeks, Huelin composes ‘very intensely for a short period of time, rather than writing a little bit of music each day’.
I want to know if he he prioritises plot, lyrics or music. For In Her Eyes, Toby explains, “Lucy Fielding [his co-writer and girlfriend] and I figured out the plot together, and then I wrote both music and lyrics in tandem, rather than writing one then the other, which seems to be a more standard way of working. I always write on the computer with a piano nearby!” But it’s different everytime, Toby explains; he isn’t one of those writers with an established creative process. Oxford will host the second performance of IHE, which was originally performed last summer in Toby’s home town, Jersey. Nevertheless, Toby is looking forward to performing to a larger audience.
The plot of In Her Eyes is a modern love story that explores the destructive dynamics of obsessive love; Freddie, a seventeen year-old girl, falls for an older boy, Jamie. Jamie is never seen by the audience, which means we will have to glean his actions and characteristics from other characters’ reportage. This allows an intentional ambiguity within the script that, as Toby informs me, will allow us to form our own opinion of their relationship. Take one of your more laid-back friends along to see In Her Eyes with you, or be preparared for the heated debates that scuch a production must surely result in.
If you were interested in developing a taste in musical theatre, this term seems to be the term for it. Toby adds that Hilary 2014 “is very exciting for musical theatre in Oxford, with at least one show every fortnight. In Her Eyes is the first, and is something very different.” In Her Eyes will be performed at the Burton Taylor Studio in 2nd week at 9:30pm (running time 60 mins). Tickets are available from www. oxfordplayhouse.com or www.IHEmusical.com.