Singer/songwriter Tim Arnold has released 11 albums, as well as working for a time as a composer at Shakespeare's Globe. This weekend (2 May 2010), he presents the first of two performances of Sonnet 155 at the Almeida Theatre, a hybrid of rock music, verse-reading and opera, starring actors including Benedict Cumberbatch, Lisa Dillon, Janet Suzman and Richard Briers.


Tim Arnold: About three years ago I'd just released my seventh album, and I did a special event for that which went so well I decided I'd like to do something more theatrical for all my future releases.

I'd worked as a composer at Shakespeare's Globe in 1999, during which time I fell in love with his work. So although by trade I'm a rock artist, I wanted to do something inspired by Shakespeare, and it seemed to right time to release an album based on his work.

When I was creating the album my starting point was to write to people like Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi, Richard Briers, Emma Thompson and  Janet Suzman asking what they most loved in Shakespeare. And they all wrote these beautiful letters containing passages from Shakespeare which they thought were the most important, which I then used those as inspiration for the album. Richard and Janet both said to me “if you're going to do a concert of this, I'll be there”, which I felt was too good an offer to turn down.

So my performance and the band's performance will be largely in response to the passages being read by the actors. Apart from two, each song is directly inspired by Shakespeare. An example is a song called “Fall of a Sparrow”, which inspired from a passage from Hamlet that was sent to me by Derek Jacobi.

There'll be six actors in total, a combination of whom will perform each of the two shows - Benedict Cumberbatch, Lisa Dillon, Hattie Morahan, Richard Briers, Paul McGann and Janet Suzman.

Lisa is my other half, and she's very much been the fuel of any fire I've put under this project. Without her pinpointing the fact that I am something of a dramatic performer, I might never have considered doing it at all.

I suppose I've always had theatre in my DNA. My mother started her career as a Windmill girl, my grandparents worked with Max Miller during the war and my great grandmother was the first adjudicator at RADA. So although I'm a rock musician, I think the theatre genes are beginning to show themselves.

After this, I'm working on a musical based on Soho. I've lived there on and off for more of my life, and several generations of my family lived there. I recorded an album in 2006 called Secrets of Soho, which was about the many extraordinary people living there. I've developed that into a musical centring on a family, spanning from the 1960s to the end of the 20th century, and its about a young woman finding her parents on a late-night journey through Soho.

There seem to be a lot of musicals about Broadway but very few about the West End. I'm not sure why that is, but this is an attempt to redress that balance a little, while also singing the song of the underdog. Lisa has co-written the book with me, and I'm going to be giving it my full attention after Sonnet 155.

For more info on Sonnet 155, click here