Imaginary is an exciting, funny and inspiring musical about the wonder of childhood, the power of the imagination and what it means to grow up.
Milo is Sam’s only friend and they spend all their time together. Using only their imaginations, they transform the world around them into a magical place of adventure and excitement. But as Sam’s first day at a new school approaches, his mother worries that Milo is holding her son back, stopping him from growing up. School turns out to be full of surprises – and secrets. When Sam makes friends with Alice, real adventure beckons. Can Sam and Milo’s friendship survive in this new world, where a painful revelation threatens to change their lives forever?
Sam and Milo are 11 years old and best friends. As they play in the small garden of Sam’s new house, they use their imaginations to turn the ordinary world around them into a place of wonder and adventure. Sam’s mum comes to tell him it’s time to go in: tomorrow is his first day at secondary school and he has to stop playing and grow up.
When Sam and Milo arrive at the school the next morning, they notice something strange about the older pupils. Their super-disciplined way of moving and speaking puts Milo in mind of “Martian battle robots”. The Headmaster explains to the new arrivals that this is the result of his pioneering teaching technique and these “upgraded” pupils are guaranteed exam success.
As the term goes on, more and more of Sam’s classmates are sent to the Headmaster’s office to be upgraded. Sam has made friends with another pupil, Alice, who knows there’s something sinister behind all this: one of the upgraded pupils is her sister, whose kindness and creativity have been extinguished by the process. Sam vows to help Alice stop the Headmaster and set the upgraded pupils free. It won’t be easy but Sam believes that the code of loyalty he learned when having imaginary adventures with Milo – “never leave a man behind” – will give them the strength to defeat the forces of darkness.
Milo, meanwhile, has grown jealous of Alice, but when he tells Sam to stop spending time with her, Sam refuses. Milo persists until Sam loses his temper and tells Milo a terrible truth: Milo isn’t real – he’s Sam’s imaginary friend. At first, Milo refuses to believe this, but as the realisation sinks in, he is visited by Big Brenda, an extraordinary-looking creature who has come to take him to Imaginary Land, the place where all “IFs” (imaginary friends) are sent once their human friends no longer believe in them.
Milo arrives in Imaginary Land. Life there is one long party for the IFs but Milo is still unhappy and won’t join in so Brenda tricks him into forgetting Sam.
Meanwhile, in the real world, Sam and Alice need to get into the Headmaster’s office so they can find out the truth about his upgrading technique and stop it. The office is locked, so they sneak into the Staff Room to steal the key but, before they can escape, the Teachers appear. Sam and Alice hide while the Teachers reminisce about how happy they were in the days before upgrading – when children were still naughty and could be punished. Just as they’re about to leave, Alice is discovered, captured and upgraded. Sam is now alone and he doesn’t know what to do.
In Imaginary Land, Milo meets Oogie – the only IF who won’t join Big Brenda’s party and forget his human friend. As Sam’s mum encourages Sam to bring Milo back if that’s what will solve his problems, Oogie helps Milo remember Sam. Sam and Milo reconnect, and Milo promises to return to the real world and help Sam.
He’ll have to hurry: Sam is being hunted! The Minister of Education is going to visit the school and the Headmaster needs Sam so he can demonstrate his upgrading technique. This is a big deal for the Headmaster. If the Minister approves his technique, all the children in the country – the world – will be upgraded!
Milo, meanwhile, finds that Big Brenda has locked the doors of Imaginary Land so he can’t get back and help Sam. Oogie distracts the other IFs with a song and dance so that Milo can escape – but he might already be too late! Sam has been captured and sent to the Headmaster’s office. There, he discovers, the Headmaster – and his vile, PE-teaching henchman Mr Gruntt – have a machine that can actually remove a pupil’s imagination. That’s what “upgrading” means! The Headmaster keeps the imaginations of all the pupils in jars, like trophies – and Sam’s is next. Sam fights the machine with all his mental powers. He’s just about to go under when Milo returns. Their united imaginations are strong enough to make the Headmaster’s machine malfunction. Out of spite, the Headmaster activates the machine’s doomsday function and threatens to blow up the world. Just before the countdown reaches zero, Big Brenda bursts in, looking for Milo. Amazingly, she turns out to be the Headmaster’s long-lost IF! Reunited with Brenda, the Headmaster repents and promises to undo all his evil work. Oogie is reunited with his human friend, Mr Gruntt, and Milo and Sam set all the other children free – including Alice.
The IFs realise that they must leave the real world so that their human friends can grow and be happy. Sam is devastated that he will never see Milo again, but Milo tells him he has Alice now. And, besides, Milo was a part of Sam so he will always be with him – in every wild and brilliant thought, every laugh, every stupid game. Everything imaginary.
Book & Lyrics by TIMOTHY KNAPMAN
Music & Lyrics by STUART MATTHEW PRICE
Commissioned and produced by National Youth Music Theatre and first performed 9 August 2017 at The Other Palace, London.
Sam – 11/12 years old (but – depending on the production – could be played by an older actor). The role of Sam can be either male or female. Clever, brave and loyal, he/she has an active imagination. Sam is close to his/her mum but is reaching the age where he/she is embarrassed by shows of affection from her. A bit timid when we first meet Sam, he/she becomes more daring and truly heroic as our story progresses.
Milo – Sam’s best friend. The role of Milo can be either male or female, and because Milo is actually Sam’s imaginary friend, Milo could be the same age as Sam or any age. Milo is a little less mature than Sam, more mischievous and irresponsible. He/she feeds Sam’s imaginative life and often leads Sam astray. As is revealed towards the end of Act One, Milo is Sam’s imaginary friend, so in a sense, Milo is who Sam wishes he/she could be but isn’t brave enough for – at the beginning of our story at least. Milo, too, matures as the story develops.
Alice – Same age as Sam and Milo, a girl in Sam’s year at his new school. Alice is strong, brave and serious. The Headmaster’s “upgrading” technique has turned her beloved sister Jess into an unfeeling robot of a girl, so Alice is shut off emotionally from the other children, bitter and untrusting – at least at first. When she realises Sam will stick by her, she reveals her kinder, more vulnerable side.
Dexter – A friendly, happy boy who is very much at ease with knowing that he’s not very smart. Simple tasks – such as tying his shoelaces – defeat him, but he has a lot of charm.
Grace – A good girl, clever, hardworking and serious. Finds breaking school rules very difficult, even when she knows she has to – but can be very brave.
Harvey – The cool kid. Confident, charming, charismatic – but not very academic.
Helen – The shy girl, nervous about going to the new school. Good-hearted but quiet.
The New Kids – Classmates of the above.
The Big Kids – All have been transformed by the Headmaster’s “upgrading” technique into robot-like drones, who move and think in a rigidly controlled manner.
Jess – One of the Big Kids. Alice’s older sister. We first see her as the poster girl for “upgrading”: severe, serious, unfeeling, hostile. But Alice’s memory of her offers us a glimpse of the girl she used to be, creative, guitar-playing and loving.
Beth – Sam’s mother. A single mother, she’s done everything she can to make Sam’s life interesting and colourful – despite there not being much money about. At the beginning of the story, she and Sam have just moved out of their small flat and into a little house, so things are looking up economically, but she worries that Sam is stuck emotionally – he still has an imaginary friend, even though he’s old enough for secondary school – and she blames herself for indulging his taste for fantasy and daydreaming.
Flick – Dexter’s mum. Loving but despairing about her son’s inability to perform basic tasks, she’s sending him to this school because she’s heard how they get amazing exam results out of even the most unpromising students.
Liam and Marco – Grace’s dads. Very proud indeed of their academically gifted daughter but also rather emotional about her first day at secondary school. She’s very relaxed about it, they’re the ones feeling the separation anxiety.
Tony – Harvey’s dad. An important corporate boss. Very strait-laced and disciplined. Cares a lot about results.
Tash – Helen’s mum. Caring but perhaps a little exasperated by her daughter’s shyness.
The Headmaster – 45 years old. Brilliant, charismatic and megalomaniac, the Headmaster is an evil genius who has developed an “upgrading” technique that removes the imagination from his students, and so enables them to pass exams with machine-like efficiency. This, he hopes, will eventually result in world domination. He had an unhappy childhood, as we see when we flashback to the Boy Headmaster – a miniature version of his older self. His parents encouraged his inventing but then broke his heart when they told him that his best friend was imaginary. In love with – or at least, strangely drawn to – Miss Stoker.
Miss Stoker – The I.T. teacher. Cold-hearted and ruthless, and admiringly in love with the Headmaster.
Dr Goole – The Mathematics teacher. Evil, like his colleagues, the only thing he regrets about the Headmaster’s “upgrading” is that the pupils are never naughty, and so cannot be punished.
Frau Rammstein – The Business Studies teacher. A scary, Wagnerian person, she speaks with a heavy German accent.
Mr Gruntt – The P.E. Teacher. As his name suggests, Gruntt cannot speak – he communicates in grunts that we, the audience, don’t understand, but that the other teachers somehow seem to understand perfectly. As the story develops, we realise that what he’s trying to say every time is “Oogie”, which is the name of his long-lost imaginary friend. During “upgrading” sessions, Gruntt assists the Headmaster, playing Igor to his Frankenstein. Reunited with Oogie, he repents and reveals his good side.
The Minister of Education – Charming, devious and utterly unreliable. A future Prime Minister.
The “IFs” or Imaginary Friends
Big Brenda – The weirdest, craziest-looking creature you’ve ever seen, there is no doubt that Brenda was the product of a child’s very fertile imagination. Initially charming and motherly – and presiding over an Imaginary Land that is one long party – we later discover that she rules Imaginary Land with a rod of iron – locking the gates that separate it from the real world, and making all newly-arrived IFs forget their human friends. We learn this is because she was once the Boy Headmaster’s IF, but they fell out and he punished her by transforming her from Brenda Jr – a human-looking child – into the monstrously improbable creature she is today. Female, but could be played by a male actor, in the English “Pantomime Dame” tradition.
The Brendettes – Big Brenda’s henchpersons and backing singers. Cool, superior and fabulous.
Oogie – The one rebel in Imaginary Land. Oogie is an IF who has refused to forget his human friend. He lives in hope of his friend communicating with him, and so has stayed by the large telephone that the humans can use to call their IFs back into their lives. Alas, the phone has not rung in all the many, many years since Oogie arrived and his faith is beginning to run out. But he’s an irrepressible character – quick to embrace hope and eager to do anything to help Milo, his new best friend.
Chutney, Mutley and Frank – Three IF friends
Reed (Alto Sax, Clarinet In Bb, flute, piccolo, Bass Clarinet)
Trumpet (Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Pic. Trumpet)
Trombone (Tenor, Bass)
Guitar (Electric, Acoustic)
Double Bass (Electric, Acoustic)
Percussion (Drum Kit, Glock, Triangle, Wood Block, Shaker, Mark Tree, Timpani)