3 Weeks in Spring at the State Theatre
3 Weeks in Spring is Australia’s musical. This iconic story is coming to Sydney’s iconic State Theatre in August 2019 for a strictly limited season.
It tells the story of the soldiers who landed at Gallipoli (including Private John Simpson of “Simpson and his Donkey” fame, legendary commander Colonel John Monash and war correspondent C.E.W. Bean), and of the loved ones they left behind.
With a score that sets toes tapping and spirits soaring, this powerful musical by writer Ian Gerrard and composer Russell Tredinnick is directed and designed by Matthew Barry. Musical direction is by Harry Collins and choreography by Linda Aubrecht.
Thirty-five performers and 10 musicians bring this important Australian story to life – and show why Australian musical theatre belongs on the biggest stage.
Rosie spoke with Writer and Producer Ian Gerrard about this exciting new Australian work and why it's important to bring more Australian musicals to the stage. Read the full interview below:
3 Weeks in Spring has been described as ‘Australia’s musical’. What about this new work makes it so iconic in the Australian theatre scene? Why do you think this is an important story to bring to the stage?
First of all, the subject matter is simply epic because it’s got absolutely everything: courage, sacrifice, mateship, unlikely heroes, love and loss… Those are the sorts of universal themes that have had audiences transfixed for millennia. And on top of that is the fact that the Anzac legend is arguably the most iconic Australian story. The landing at Anzac Cove on April 25, 1915, the fact that it was the wrong place, the notion of “Anzac spirit”, the ultimate failure of the Gallipoli campaign – these are hugely important to the modern Australian narrative. So being able to bring all that to the stage, in a fresh, emotionally engaging, relatable way is what makes this project so exciting – and challenging!
We often interview directors and actors, but rarely get to chat to playwrights about their process. What inspired the creation of 3 Weeks in Spring, and how has the work developed over time? Will this be the first time the show is seen by an audience?
I first got the idea for the show about 10 or 11 years ago. I was with my eldest daughter (who’s now almost 17 and playing one of the nurses in the musical) in a library. She was looking at some books and I was idly browsing the shelves when I came across this thin book – it was almost a pamphlet – about Simpson and his donkey. I’m English (as was, I later discovered, Simpson) so didn’t know the story but it just captivated me. Then I started reading more about the Gallipoli campaign and finding the characters – some historical, some invented – whose experiences would bring the story to life.
The story structure was clear in my mind very early on and hasn’t really changed. We workshopped the musical in 2011 and the audience response was extraordinary – standing ovations, the works. But I always felt we could improve it quite significantly and that’s what we’ve done now. We’ve added songs, we’ve removed songs, we’ve changed songs, I’ve worked hard to make the characters more rounded. It’s a much better show now, but its soul remains untouched.
You’ve mentioned what inspired the creation of the story, but what inspired the choice to make it a musical? How does telling this story through song change the way we engage with our nation’s history?
I always thought a musical was the best way to tell the story. I just think music captures and conveys emotion better than anything. It can instil joy, sorrow, yearning, hope – all the emotions our characters are going through and that we want the audience to feel experience too. Russell Tredinnick’s music, and the arrangements and orchestrations, will get spirits soaring and creating a profoundly moving experience. When I was young, I was lucky enough to appear at the Edinburgh Festival and on the West End in musical theatre, so I’ve seen first-hand how it affects audiences. And I think with this show we take that and raise it!
3 Weeks in Spring has a sizeable cast of 35 performers and 10 musicians. How is this story benefitted by such a large team? What can audiences expect from this new musical?
They can expect to see an extraordinarily talented and committed group of people bring an extraordinary story to life. Like I said, this is a big show in terms of subject matter and themes, it needs a big cast to do that justice. Every individual has their own story arc and it’s bringing them all together to paint the bigger picture that helps make this show so human and relatable and universal. I love the fact that, in many cases, the cast have named their own characters, sometimes naming them after family members who have been in war. So the show becomes an individual as well as a collective tribute. People can expect to laugh, they can expect to cry, they can expect to see a musical that will stay with them for ever.
There also going to see an incredibly adorable donkey – but I’m not going to tell you how we’re doing that!
Over the past few years, there’s been a greater push to get Australian musicals in front of audiences. Why do you think it’s so important to hear Australian voices in the musical theatre industry, and how can we support new musicals coming to the stage?
I think it’s crucial that Australian stories are told. There have been steps in the right direction, but I think more can be done. We have the stories and we have the talent. It would be nice to see as much institutional investment in them as there is in bigger international productions. The NSW Government crows about bringing Hamilton to Sydney. It’s a great show. But there are great shows already here that would benefit from a fraction of the support and, if allowed to, could not only deliver the same economic benefits but would create an exportable industry that would be even more valuable.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favourite production you have ever seen?
1996 London revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. Steve Balsamo as Jesus. Extraordinary.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
The Dordogne region of France. Good friends, beautiful scenery, gorgeous food, great wine all there.
Dream show to create?
This will take some beating!
Plays or musicals?
Musicals every time.
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Love serious hiking. Have done the Inca Trail and Everest base camp. Kilimanjaro is next!
What’s next for you after this show?
There’s a sitcom that I want to write.
3 Weeks in Spring opens at the State Theatre on August 13, 2019. You can get your tickets here.