Epic tale tells a universal story
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.”
Barking Gecko artistic director John Sheedy.