Life & Culture

Composer Josh Cohen's tea party recipe

Just like the White Rabbit in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Josh Cohen does not want to be late for a very important date.


That date is every night (and some matinees too) at the Roundhouse in north London. He is currently  combining roles as the Narrator and a member of the onstage band in a production of The Mad Hatters Tea Party. Oh, and he composed the music for the show, too.

The multi-talented Cohen is bringing the show, which features a host of body-popping and breakdancing characters, back to London (it was first performed at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio back in 2014) in a production re-imagined for the unique space at the Roundhouse. Produced by The Royal Ballet Studio Programme and featuring dance company ZooNation, it stars street dance artist and CBBC television presenter, Turbo.

Cohen grew up in Northwood, Middlesex, in what he calls a “traditional, but not especially religious” family. His social science studies at Edinburgh University quickly took a back seat when he was bitten by the theatre bug: “Almost from the first week I was there, I was in plays, and playing in a band. That continued for the whole time I was in Edinburgh, so the degree became a bit of an excuse to be there. Really, I was learning a lot about music and putting on shows.”

Ten years ago, he linked up with an old university friend, Kate Prince, who runs ZooNation. After a successful collaboration with Prince on the show Into the Hoods, Cohen joined forces with musician DJ Walde to create an original score for ZooNation’s production of Some Like it Hip Hop.

This toured the UK and the commission for The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at the Royal Opera House soon followed.

For an establishment like the Royal Opera House, the move into the world of hip-hop was unexpected. “It did not hurt that Into the Hoods had had success in the West End and was at the Royal Festival Hall for a while. The Royal Opera House was taking a chance and doing something quite different and unusual for them, and so we really appreciated that they were taking that leap.”

ZooNation’s shows attract a wide audience. “We get an amazingly wide demographic, both in terms of age and socio-economic background. We make shows for children as young as six, all the way up to grandparents taking those kids, and everyone in between. We have a lot of teenagers and people in their twenties who come along, and we really have a family appeal. In terms of diversity of background, it is one of the things we are very proud of. We seem to attract audiences who don’t necessarily go to the theatre that regularly — you might not necessarily see them on any given day at a West End show, and that makes it more rewarding.”

Although he is narrating and playing in the band during the show, Cohen admits his first love is composing. “I suppose the music side of it is most exciting to me. The fact that we are getting to play our own songs is the best thing about it.”

At the end of the run, he will return home to his family in New York. Life in the Big Apple has its appeal — and he wants to bring ZooNation’s productions over to the US at some point in the future — but he does sometimes miss his life here.

“I miss my family and friends — you can’t get around that. Living outside of London makes you really appreciate it, so I actually find coming back a real pleasure — I see it in a way I probably didn’t when I lived here full time.”

It appears you can take the boy out of Northwood, but you can’t take Northwood out of the boy.


‘The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ runs at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, London NW1 until Sunday 22 January.

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