The World Was Wide Enough: How Hamilton expanded the realm of possibility.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

I heard it for the first time in a house that was not mine. The same house where I watched Hedwig for the first time, and discovered Diptyque candles, and wrote most of the best bits of a show I'm proud of. I think it was October but I might be wrong. I could google it, I know, but in my head it was October and the truth and the facts are sometimes different things.

I first heard Hamilton in a house that was not mine, Octobers ago.

I saw it for the first time on the last day of September, a year later in a city I do not live in. I'd last been to bed on the other side of the world, and was plane tired. Bone and mind tired. I was wearing a gold velvet dress almost the same colour as the artwork.

A perfectly timed act of kindness from a good friend meant that ten days ago, an invitation to the final dress rehearsal of the London run popped in to my inbox. Five days ago I saw it on home turf. I could have walked there from my office, it was that close. I didn't, but I could have.

You only have to open Twitter to see what early audiences think. In a few weeks, you will read reviews from people who's job it is to write reviews. I don't need to add to that. I agree with what they will all say; for so many reasons it was one of the most special evenings I've ever spent in a theatre.

And do you know what else? There are far more interesting things about Hamilton than what I, sitting in the Victoria Palace on Tuesday night, thought of it as a piece.

So this is not a review.


Hamilton changed the narrative for a lot of people in theatre (maybe out of theatre, too), and I do not get to speak for most of them. One thing I think I am qualified to talk about, though? How important this wondrous show is for emerging artists. There are things we had never even considered that we know now are possible. Because of Hamilton. Because of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

(I could also talk about the Angelica/Hamilton relationship for a long time and in great detail, but won't. That's for another time).

I'll begin with a story. Or part of a story, at least. Actually it's just a line, presented to me as a fact by an incredibly successful composer.

"You can't do that in musicals".

It was my second ever show. First commission. I can't remember what it was that I was trying to do, but I believed him. Wouldn't you?

I was 26 years old, the youngest on the creative team by a very long way and flitting constantly between knowing I was good enough to be there and worrying that maybe I was not. I had read an interview with Lin-Manuel where he said (and I remember it word for word, I think) "It was never in my soul and bones to write a musical about cheerleading", but he knew he'd learn so much from the team that he said yes. I carried that with me for a long time. It made a lot of things I was feeling make sense. This show was not in my soul and bones. It maybe had been, once, but things can happen to erase that, and they did. It was not in my soul and bones but the team? I would learn so much. I was there to absorb their knowledge, to take what they had to offer and give back the things I knew, a generation and half a world away, that they did not.

And what they taught me, that particular day?

You can't do that.

So I didn't.


For the uninitiated, it's a hip-hop inspired musical about the founding fathers of America. It opens with a rap number. Cabinet meetings are rap battles. It's contemporary dance in period costumes.

(In the In The Heights box office, we used to describe it to slightly older customers as "spoken word", scared of saying rap, I think. Then we realised they already knew what it was. They were as here for it as we were).

It was one of the only shows I have ever heard that made me think I did not know musicals could be that. And when you realise that; realise that after 11 years working in theatre and a lifetime worshipping it, you can still be surprised, the realm of possibility expands a bit.


I saw In The Heights on Broadway, and at Southwark. By the time it came to Kings Cross I was part of the Box Office team. By the time it left, I was in charge of the Box Office. A passion for the project you're selling allows you to give it all you've got, and I saw something in Lin-Manuel's work that made me want to step up my game in my own, both writing and in the things I did to fund the writing. It was one of the proudest and most joyful periods of my career (of my life). We played Hamilton often; told customers wearing Broadway merch how jealous we were that they beat us there.

At the same time (between all the bleeding and fighting, luckily metaphorical), I was writing. Writing and writing and writing and all the while listening to Hamilton fall in love with Angelica, and try to reconcile that with the reality of his life; listening to him fall in love with Eliza, and try to reconcile that with the reality of his career; listening to him, between his own bleeding and fighting, reading and writing and writing and writing his way out.

(The day Hamilton opened on Broadway, Lin-Manuel posted a picture. Himself in costume as Hamilton, sitting at a writing desk, the caption I wrote my way out. I looked up and the town had it's eyes on me. I think about it dearly, and often. It gives me goosebumps on goosebumps every time).

The more I listened, it seemed, the more I was told that the things I was trying to do in my own work were unrealistic, or not audience friendly enough or, often, too complicated. By then I was 27, almost two years in to a project that was killing my creativity and compromising my integrity in a way that I suspected wasn't worth it, but that I had no experience to compare to. I listened to Lin on the soundtrack, he looked at me like I was stupid - I'm not stupid, and learned that perfect phrasing is just as effective as what you're saying, sometimes. I walked to the highest point in Greenwich with my headphones in, and looked out over London, and thought you don't have to be sitting at a desk to be writing. That was the same weekend I got my mouth around I am inimitable, I am an original. It was the same month I sat in bed on a Thursday morning, watched a commencement speech that Lin had given at a university where he talked about never compromising on integrity, and thought for the first time I don't know if I can do this anymore.

I was listening to Hamilton the morning I decided I could not. I don't wear my hair the way I did back then, because it reminds me. I sometimes put on the cape I had on that day and try to make this looks cute a more prevalent thought than remember when. I still listen to the album all the time.

It's the overriding thing.

It is better than the memories it sticks to.


Hamilton is unrealistic, as a concept. A hip-hop musical with a cast comprised predominantly of people of colour, about the founding fathers? What?

On paper, it is not audience friendly. See above, basically.

It is complicated as hell.

All the things I was told were fundamentally wrong about my work were the things that, combined with a magic beyond articulation, made Hamilton gross more in a single week than any other musical in Broadway history; receive more Tony nominations than anything that had come before.

The show asks the question Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?

It made me wonder who gets to decide mine?


What is it about? The first Treasury secretary of the United States of America. His ambition, his complicated personal life, the incredible women who fought with and for him.

What is it about, really?

It is about reclaiming stories, and finding your place in them. It is about saying I wasn't there, but this is relevant to me. This is my history; my legacy, too. 

I wasn't there, but I am now.

It is about expanding limits. It is about saying How can you tell me musical theatre can't be this, when it is? Someone has created it, and that makes it possible for the rest of us, too. He proved we can. We don't get to claim impossibility anymore. Neither does anyone else on our behalf. 

It's about being confident enough in your ideas. It's about being confident enough in your confidence.

Knowing that your artistic integrity is the most important thing. Learning that you can not be compromised.

There's a line, in that unmeasurably wonderful open letter that Emma Rice wrote to her successor, that has stuck with me; that pretty much summarises the things I felt, October, not my house, listening to Eliza put herself back in the narrative.

"Nothing is worth giving away my artistic freedom for. It has been too hard fought for".

I reached the end, that first time around Alexander's story, and opened a new word document. Draft 14 became Version 2, Draft 1.

That composer, from the story (half story. line) I told before? I think often about what I'll say when I see him again. It changes depending entirely on my mood, but it's always, to paraphrase, something along the lines of trying to limit me was the biggest mistake you could have made for your show. Just so you know.

The one thing I learned, from working with those people who tried to reduce me? That I never want to do it again. That I don't have to.

And the next time someone tells me You can't do that in musicals?

I have proof, whatever it is, that you can.


I have quoted this show in love letters (well, love cards). I have referenced it in countless blog posts, and even more on social media, and once in a job interview. I have been moved to tears by it in two cities. I have never loved it more than in October, in a house that was not mine.

'Cause on the morning of a writing day, in pyjamas, on someone else's sofa, I saw a tweet saying that Hamilton had dropped it's soundtrack days before anyone was expecting it, and I walked around the house, and when that began to feel too small around the streets surrounding it, and listened to the whole thing.

And suddenly, the world was wide enough.

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