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Julian Philips Opera: Varjak Paw

A new production from The Opera Group
The Opera Group Presents Varjak Paw

A brand new musical tale

Music by Julian Philips; lyrics by Kit Hesketh-Harvey based on SF Said’s award-winning children’s books.


British composer Julian Philips and celebrated writer/librettist Kit Hesketh- Harvey have joined forces to write Varjak Paw, a brand new action-packed musical tale that will appeal directly to children as well as to their parents. The show has been commissioned by The Opera Group whose joyful production of Jonathan Dove’s The Enchanted Pig in 2007 was a big hit with young audiences.

Read more on The Opera Group website which features Julian Philips' blog on his preparations for the production. A micro site has been set up here on which you can watch a trailer from the opera: Meet Varjak Paw

Varjak Paw is based on the best-selling children’s books by S F Said – 'Varjak Paw' , winner of the Smarties Prize Gold Award in 2003, and 'The Outlaw Varjak Paw' which was the Blue Peter Book of the Year in 2007.

The show is complemented by a series of free events in association with Waterstone’s bookshops, which include a 15 minute ‘taster’ performance and, in selected stores, and a book signing by S F Said (see list here: The Opera Group website).

Varjak Paw is directed by The Opera Group’s Artistic Director, John Fulljames, designed by Linbury Stage Design Prize winner, Rhys Jarman and the eight- piece ensemble is conducted by Gerry Cornelius. An ensemble cast of singers and actors is led by multi-talented Akiya Henry in the title role, whose credits include 'Carmen Jones' at the Festival Hall, The National Theatre’s Coram Boy, The Opera Group’s The Enchanted Pig and CITV’s 'Captain Mack'. She is joined by Lisa
Crosato, George Ikediashi, Alinka Kozári, Kevin Kyle, Tim Mead, Simon Wilding and Annabelle Williams. Thrilling, action-packed, funny, thoughtful Varjak Paw is a dazzling musical tale about growing up, discovering friendship and thinking for yourself.

Varjak Paw is a young Mesopotamian Blue cat. He lives high in a house on a hill. No-one in his family has ever set paw outside; not since their legendary ancestor - Jalal. But when the sinister Gentleman and his two black cats come to the house, Varjak must seek help. Alone in a dark and dangerous city, he encounters a world of tough street cats, makes some unexpected allies and discovers in himself an ancient and magical martial art.

Julian Philips has already achieved remarkable success as a composer for the concert platform and in the theatre – but Varjak Paw is his first full-length opera. Both he and his collaborator Kit Hesketh-Harvey agree that the attraction of the Varjak Paw books lies in their vivid story-telling and strong characters. ”What I’m writing is a rather dizzying mixture of opera, music theatre, cabaret and Arabic music”, says Philips. “Mysterious scenes in which Varjak meets his ancient ancestor
Jalal the Paw are contrasted with rougher episodes in which he encounters a whole array of street cats – some scawny, some sassy and sexy. The legendary Scratch Sisters are characterised as black soul divas – a kind of feline Supremes.

I wanted to write an opera that young people would enjoy” says Hesketh-Harvey. Varjak Paw is a romping good yarn based on the old story of the young lad who becomes a super-hero. There’s no better operatic story than that!”

Varjak Paw is suitable for children from 8+

On tour: September 11 – November 1, 2008

September 11 – 13, The Haymarket, Basingstoke

September 16, Oxford Playhouse

September 18 – 20, Lighthouse, Poole

September 25 – 28, Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House

October 4 - 5, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Aldeburgh

October 28, Sherman, Cardiff

October 30 – November 1, Warwick Arts Centre

The production of Varjak Paw and its associated Education programme is supported by Arts Council England, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Peter Moores Foundation and The Foyle Foundation. The production was developed with the support of OperaGenesis.

Press contact for The Opera Group: FAITH WILSON ARTS PUBLICITY, Tel: +44 (0)20 7403 8240, mobile: 0794 1137453, e-mail:


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