Max refers to "creative collaborations" as a "very precious thing"isabel dempsey with permission for varsity

Simultaneously one of the best and worst things about Cambridge is its overwhelming population of talented people – people such as dynamic theatre writing duo, Max Mason and Ben Cole. Both second-years at Robinson College, they’ve recently made waves in the Cambridge theatre scene with their joint threats of performing, directing, composing, and – most impressively – making musicals. Although the pair have now joined musical theatre forces, they started their journeys from very different places. English student Max grew up doing theatre. His love of literature led to a love of writing and, coming into Cambridge, he knew he “wanted to make a mark”.

“Coming into Cambridge [Max] knew he “wanted to make a mark””

On the other hand, while music student and organ scholar Ben “used to do quite a lot of theatre”, when it came to the question of what he wanted to do with his life, he “had to sacrifice it for music.” But, strangely enough it is this love of music that brought him back, as he started frequently accompanying people who sing musical theatre at university. He tells me that it was actually a conversation with his director of music from school that brought him back to the theatre world and “planted the idea of writing a musical”. That very seed grew into last term’s Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society’s freshers’ musical: Field of Folk.

Coincidentally, while Robinson College Music Society president Ben was being pulled in the direction of theatre, Max was being pulled towards music after directing the opera Semele last term. He described the project as a “big step out of my comfort zone”. However, his background also helped him “treat it like a work of theatre rather than a work of music” and he worked hard to move it away from the inaccessible pretentiousness usually associated with the opera world. Combining theatre and music, the pair joke that through this genre their “different worlds have collided”.

“Max calls Martin Luther “the celebrity star of the Reformation””

With their paths of music and theatre now firmly crossed, Max gives me an insight into the pair’s creative process. He says they’ll usually “plot out a narrative and number of scenes and then I will sit and write the text of a song or scene and send it to Ben” to compose the music. However, before they could fully throw themselves into Field of Folk it had to be “put on the slow burner” for Max to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream – their Easter term passion project. With Ben writing the music for the show, Max says: “Midsummer was a way of us learning to find our feet in terms of creative collaboration.”

By the time they came to Field of Folk, this collaboration was certainly perfected. For those of you unfortunate enough to have missed the show, the musical is an “adaptation of the Medieval dream vision”, loosely inspired by the 14th-century poem ‘Piers Plowman’ by William Langland. Max tells me: “It’s a genre with huge imaginative capacity – there’s no limits to a dream”. They were excited to bring it to a modern audience and give it a contemporary twist. Ben explains: “It’s a bit meta in that way. We have a dream to tell a story about a man who dreams”. And this dream certainly surpassed my wildest expectations. The soundtrack to this spectacular musical is now available on Spotify for anybody who wants to give Ben’s beautiful bops a listen.


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When I ask about their future plans, Ben tells me that on the night of the get-out of Field of Folk, Max mentioned that he “had great idea for a musical about Martin Luther and the ’95 theses,” which promises to be “an hour of funny.” Max calls Martin Luther “the celebrity star of the Reformation” and the pair “wanted to do a satire of religion á la Mormon”. Ben says “a lot of good ideas immediately sprouted from that…but that would be a spoiler. Come and see it when it’s actually written”.

Looking even further in the future I ask the two second-years if this is something they’re interested in pursuing as a career, to which Ben interrupts with an immediate “yes”. Max tells me they see themselves “as individuals going into the field, and as a pair we suit well as well”, as they start joking about the possibilities of “Mason, Cole and co”. Max describes how “a lesson can be drawn out of the way we work which is just ‘talk to your friends’, and there’s chances that your friends will have shared interests”. He refers to “creative collaborations” such as his and Ben’s as a “very precious thing”. And after having watched this talented pair spark off each other for almost an hour, it would be hard to disagree.