Life & Culture

This new musical stars a thoroughly modern Moses

A husband and wife team have written a new musical based on the Exodus story


Rehearsals in progress

The Exodus from Egypt may have taken place thousands of years ago, but its themes of political unrest, personal turmoil and crushing disappointment are timelessly relatable. Now a husband and wife team are bringing their musicalised version of the Exodus and the complicated life of Moses to a North London stage – and it’s packed with verve, humour and psychological nuance.

Go! The Musical is a new production at Highgate’s Gatehouse, which breathes new life, rhyme and rhythm into the story of Moses. The creators, Adam and Mikhal Taylor, were initially inspired to write a musical after watching a performance of Les Miserables. When they discussed potential subject matters, the multi-faceted character of Moses stood out to them.

“Moses is really human,” Adam, 62, explains. “He is passionate, driven, but also flawed, vulnerable, ruthless: a varied personality, not the kind of saintly character that I’d always learnt about.”

After reading around the topic, Adam realised that the post-Exodus timeline in particular would make for a fascinating study.

“What particularly stood out was the second half of the story, because we’ve seen The Ten Commandments, The Prince of Egypt, and all those stories,” Adam explains.

“They all end when the people cross the Red Sea and there’s a kind of a golden haze and they head up to the Promised Land, but of course that’s not really the way it was.

“The more interesting bits were where it all got very difficult and the disillusionment and complaints set in, and Moses had a real struggle on his hands.

“He was a conflicted personality – he had personal turmoil to do with his background and his difficult relationship with the people and with God.

“He had to deal with all that while getting them to the Promised Land, and it seemed like quite a journey and one that might work well in a musical form.”

The couple, who are lawyers by trade, have spent 13 years working on this passion project, toying with various characters, timelines and versions, and working with workshops and creative team members to pull it all together.

What was a two-and-a-half hour epic has now been condensed into a gripping 90-minute production, complete with humorous songs, flashbacks to Egypt, and plenty of punchy political commentary that may be thousands of years old in context, but which will resonate with audiences today in its exploration of the human condition.

“Because of what Moses was going through in the desert with the politics and his leadership, what he did is absolutely extraordinary,” Mikhal, 54, explains.

“He came from an amazing civilisation in Egypt, and he managed to break all ties and create a new civilisation, which was completely different to where he came from.

“Although it has been talked about and investigated for thousands of years, it felt like that maybe a contemporary take on exactly what he did and how he did it, and how he achieved it, and the difficulty of it, would be absolutely fascinating.”

The couple are both Jewish. Adam is from Dublin, and Mikhal from Montreal. They have been married for 23 years after meeting at a housewarming party in Hampstead. Though their Jewish backgrounds informed their knowledge and interest in the subject, the couple were keen to further their perspective on the Exodus tale.

The plot is not a literal retelling of the story many of us will remember from Hebrew school; rather, the couple researched the topic extensively, reading everything from Freud and the Midrash to Rabbi Sacks and Michael Walzer to bring added layers to the story they had grown up learning.

“It was slightly daunting to say, ‘Are we allowed to do this; can we take this view of things?’” Mikhal explains. “But ultimately we read a huge amount around the question, so we were quite at ease being able to look at all the various sources and to come up with something that felt true even though not literal.”

The couple, who have three children, feel that many of the themes in the Exodus story are deeply pertinent in the 21st century, especially when it comes to political unrest, differing leadership styles and the difficulty of disillusionment.

“We’re both interested in politics and we felt if we were going to retell that story it needed to resonate with modern times,” Mikhal adds. “We picked those aspects which we felt were very resonant. There are so many parallels. When dictatorships end, emigration, immigration… People going into the water to look for a better life.”

The play makes a point to address the very human and relatable disappointments that Moses faced throughout his life.

“There are so many aspects to his personality,” Adam adds. “There are times when he’s depressed, he’s vulnerable, he’s arguing a lot.

“One other aspect that really appealed to me was what happens when Moses never actually reaches the Promised Land – what happens when we have a big goal in life and we don’t achieve it?

“Moses has gone through so much, he’s sacrificed a lot to help the people. He got a very hostile reception when he intervened, he then ran away and ended up in this oasis and he seemed very happy there and that looked like his Promised Land, but then he ended up going back to help the people, and gave up an awful lot.

“The one big thing he wanted to achieve, to reach the Promised Land, was denied. So we explore that as well: how do you come to terms with the one thing you’ve been fighting for your whole life, and realising that you’re not going to achieve it?

“Moses is not perfect: he’s not a saint, he’s a very human character, and that’s really what drove the whole thing right from the start.”

As well as Moses, the other main characters are Korach, Zipporah and Pharaoh – but interestingly, Pharaoh is portrayed as a woman, a deliberate choice by the creators.

“We started out with Pharaoh being a male character, and after a couple of years, we changed our mind,” Mikhal reveals. “Firstly, the relationship between Pharaoh and Moses is one of the linchpins of the musical, and it felt that it would become just a power play between the both of them, with not enough nuance.

“We thought a female Pharaoh would add a layer of complexity because Moses is not just fighting power, but he’s also bringing up a lot on the emotional side of things: it’s easier to break up with a father than a mother.

“I remember reading a commentary that you can see the Exodus story as a metaphor for the birth of a child: first the child is in the mother’s womb and he is completely dependent on her for everything, and then the waters break and the child comes out of the canal and the first thing that he does is screams and wants water and food.

“It felt like a complete parallel to the slaves being completely dependent, then the Red Sea breaks and they come out, and it felt obvious then that Pharaoh should be a mother because she’s the one giving birth. It really opened up the musical since we’ve made Pharaoh a woman character – we now can’t even imagine her as a male!”

The couple believe the musical’s timeless themes will appeal to everyone, Jewish or not.

“It’s about the messy part of Exodus, with rhythm and rhyme, and power and politics,” Adam says. “It will appeal to people who are interested in politics, theatre, musicals, but also the wider community because it contains universal themes, and it has lots of humour. We’ve come up with our take on Moses, and the audience will have to make of it what they will.”

Go is at the Gatehouse from July 23 to 28.

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