Hugh Sheridan’s Rafters return
HUGH Sheridan is exhausted. It’s 8pm when we chat after he’s just wrapped another huge day on the set of the Christmas movie he’s filming. He’d just opened the Brisbane Festival with a revamped version of Hugh Sheridan Unplugged on the previous weekend and was still searching for new dancers for his Hughman shows, with Covid border closures meaning his usual talent were firmly locked out of Queensland.
“I haven’t had a day off for so long,” he shares. “I feel sheepish to say I’m so run off my feet. Especially when so many people are unemployed.”
It’s reminiscent of 18 months ago when the triple threat was doing the Adelaide Fringe, and flying between Melbourne and Sydney to shoot the second series of Five Bedrooms, and the Back to the Rafters reboot for Amazon Prime.
That was before Covid’s first wave across the globe, which shut down production on both shows.
Sheridan feels the enforced break was a benefit to the Rafters reboot – especially after Jessica Marais, the original Rachel, stepped out of the role and was replaced by Georgina Haig.
“There were so many adjustments to the family coming back together – especially when Jess left,” he shares. “It was actually better that we stopped and had a break to be honest.
“When we came back – everything from the weather and all the things working against us changed – and the Rafters came back. It was really beautiful.”
The Covid break was also a benefit to Sheridan personally. He wrote The Dance – a semiautobiographical film based on his experiences at The Australian Ballet School and production was slated to start this year. It also gave him a chance to rebuild his mental health after the previous turbulent 12 months where he was viciously trolled over his casting in Hedwig (Sheridan did eventually get his chance to perform Hedwig, dressing as the transgender lead and singing a song from the production in his recent Unplugged show), despite him opening up about his sexuality for the first time in an essay for Stellar magazine.
Back To the Rafters picks up six years from when we last saw the family. Dave (Erik Thomson) and Julie (Rebecca Gibney) have created a new life in the country with youngest daughter Ruby (Willow Speers). As everyone comes together in Sydney to celebrate Dave and Julie’s 35th anniversary, history repeats as they all cram into Ben’s (Sheridan’s) two-bedroom home – again packed to the you-knowwhat. The older Rafter children are facing new challenges with Ben married to Cassie (HaiHa Le) and hoping to start a family, Nathan (Angus McLaren) trying to do it all as a single dad and Rachel (Haig) living a secret life in New York. Sheridan thinks the new platform on global streaming giant Amazon Prime is perfect for the Rafters’ revival.
“It’s warm and fuzzy and we’re now bringing an Australian secret to the entire world,” he says. “I always say it’s the family you wished you had. It’s what we all strive for. “And then there’s these beautiful characters that love each other so much. We all – Rebecca, Erik, Angus, George (Houvardis), Michael (Caton) – just love our characters and have so much connection to them.” Originally planned for an earlier release, Sheridan believes it’s quite fortuitous the six-part series has just dropped now.
RIGHT ON TIME
“The world truly needs the joy of the Rafters right now,” he says.
“It’s a bit like when the Queen did her Covid address last year – whether you were pro-monarchy or not – you couldn’t watch that and not cry,” he says. “I think especially living in such times of separation, when Rafters was originally shot, the world was so different – what we aimed for and what we looked for as being idyllic is completely different to our reality today.
“I think having Rafters back on our screens will give people a reminder, some nostalgia, but also a hope for the future.”