Epic tale tells a univer­sal story

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Stage - Tanya MacNaughton

BARK­ING Gecko The­atre Company artis­tic di­rec­tor John Sheedy has brought to­gether com­poser Kate Miller-Hei­dke, li­bret­tist Lally Katz and de­signer Gabriela Tylesova to work on his fam­ily opera The Rab­bits and he could not be hap­pier.

Based on the book by il­lus­tra­tor Shaun Tan and au­thor John Mars­den, the pro­duc­tion was com­mis­sioned by Perth In­ter­na­tional Arts Fes­ti­val and Mel­bourne Fes­ti­val and is a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Bark­ing Gecko, Opera Aus­tralia and WA Opera.

Sheedy said his jour­ney on the pro­duc­tion started 12 years ago when he first picked up a copy of The Rab­bits and knew its epic na­ture would make a won­der­ful opera.

He pitched the opera to Bark­ing Gecko four years ago and again to PIAF artis­tic di­rec­tor Jonathan Hol­loway, who hooked on to Sheedy’s vi­sion and agreed to Bark­ing Gecko’s fifth PIAF show for the 2015 pro­gram.

“Hav­ing adapted and di­rected the piece, I’ve spent hun­dreds of hours look­ing at that book, sto­ry­board­ing, look­ing at the themes on each page and how one in­forms the other,” Sheedy said.

“We had four cre­ative de­vel­op­ments over two years and ended up with 11 num­bers for a one-hour opera.

“We have five rab­bits and five mar­su­pi­als and Kate Miller-Hei­dke is our nar­ra­tor and of the bird world. She is our wit­ness who hov­ers above and acts as the au­di­ence’s di­rect link in to the piece.

“Then we have a band of five, so it’s small in terms of opera scale, but also big in terms of any mu­si­cal the­atre piece.”

Opera Aus­tralia artis­tic di­rec­tor Lyn­don Ter­racini has men­tored Sheedy, an opera lover, but first-time opera di­rec­tor.

Sheedy said The Rab­bits was a mytho­log­i­cal tale and univer­sal story about the coloni­sa­tion of an in­dige­nous cul­ture.

“It’s heart­break­ing, it’s beau­ti­ful and is hope­ful at the end, which I think is the most im­por­tant thing,” he said.

“It ques­tions how we fix what we’ve messed up and I love that they’ve put that in a chil­dren’s book be­cause at Bark­ing Gecko, I al­ways like to pro­gram and cre­ate works that are chal­leng­ing, that peo­ple would usu­ally shy away from pre­sent­ing to chil­dren.

“To cre­ate a piece of the­atre that makes a dif­fi­cult sub­ject ac­ces­si­ble to young peo­ple and fam­i­lies and al­lows for a much larger con­ver­sa­tion af­ter­wards.”

Pic­ture: An­drew Ritchie

Bark­ing Gecko artis­tic di­rec­tor John Sheedy.

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