Portrait of an Unknown Woman (Harvesting Against a Yellow Background) is a musical about the end of the world. It explores, in fragmented form, the hopes and dreams of a group of strangers, all of whom have decided - with varying degrees of success - to let the world go to hell and live out the ending with as much style and panache as they can muster. They are also connected by their memories of a mysterious female figure, the unknown woman of the title, who, for each of them, may or may not be the same person.
The musical was originally produced at the Oxford Old Fire Station in 1997, directed by Ika Willis, and then substantially rewritten for a new production at the 1998 Edinburgh Fringe, directed by Duncan Moore and Jonathan Rallings.
The show never truly found its feet at the time, and the ambition of the concept outstripped its ability to deliver. However, the score still shines, and the story touches on many issues that are prevalent today. Maybe its time has come.
Over one crazy weekend in 1998, the Edinburgh company of Portrait convened in a tiny recording studio in Brighton and recorded an album of songs from the musical. Twenty years later, these recordings were edited, remixed and added to by myself and Jonathan Rallings, who had co-directed and performed in that production. You can listen to these recordings, along with a couple of the original 1998 mixes, below. However, these fifteen tracks represent only a fraction of the many songs that featured in both the Oxford and Edinburgh productions of the show.
Music and songs from Portrait of an Unknown Woman.
Singers: Jonathan Rallings, Holly Harris, Hannah Richards, Madeline Wayment, Deborah O'Donoghue, Jon Cohen, Jenny Kilcast and Ewen Moore