Creatives Commentary: Sound Designer Tom Marshall on My Beautiful Laundrette

Wed 22 Apr 2020

Tom Marshall, Sound Designer of our Made at Curve production of My Beautiful Laundrette, talks about creating the soundscape for one of the key moments in the drama.

This was a real treat for me as I rarely get to work on plays. We decided that creatively we should help tell the story and set the scenes using realistic soundscapes and sound effects. This isn’t as straight forward as it may seem, especially when the design of the show is more abstract in its representation. Therefore one has to craft the sounds to fit within the scenes and not jar from visually what you’re looking at. Hundreds of elements make up multiple layers of sounds, from the loud and obvious sweeps in and out of scenes to the distant ambience that is only just audible in the background.

In addition to this was the music element of the show. The Pet Shop Boys wrote and supplied six main ‘themes’ for the show which as well as using them in their completed forms (actual songs) I had great privilege in being able to dissect the tracks and use individual instrument stems for specific moments. Also by adding more effects to these stems and combining them with stems that were from other parts of the track we were able to create a whole underscore for the show, still using the composers’ music.

This picture is of the moment Omar and Johnny see each other for the first time since they were at school. Omar and two family members have broken down at night, in a dangerous part of town and have been approached by a pair of ‘skinheads’ with the intent on causing harm. At the last minute Johnny recognises Omar and calls his gang off. What follows is a brief conversation in which the two boys remember each other from the past. The narrative suggests that this is at night time, which of course adds to the tension. Using the film as influence I helped set the scene in what would be a dark street, most likely under a railway bridge. Using elements of the odd passing car on a wet road, combined with some low drones, rumbles and the odd metallic clanking, all drenched in reverb I was able to set up the sinister element of the scene. All of this crescendos to the point where Johnny and Omar lock eyes, at which point, along with lighting, all of this slips away to give a surreal, out of body moment of content whilst the two characters talk. At this point I uses a small stem loop from one of the tracks, repeated through delay and reverb and then played extremely softly. That added to a loop of a lone car passing, almost like a ‘swish’ helped emphasise the importance of this moment.

A simple little sequence, but having it all work at exactly the right moment and levels was thoroughly enjoyable.