Calamity Jane at Belvoir St
If you saw and loved Calamity Jane last year at the Hayes Theatre in Sydney, or if you were sad to miss it, good news, the team is back and ready once again to take Sydney by storm! As part of a tour that will span NSW, VIC and the ACT, Calamity Jane is coming to Belvoir this week and Carly was lucky enough to speak to the fantastic Anthony Gooley - who plays Bill Hickok - ahead of their opening night.
Calamity Jane is back in Sydney this year after an exceptional run last year at the Hayes Theatre and will be a featured part of the Belvoir season this month. Can you tell me a bit about where this show journey began for you – what appealed to you about this production and what has made it exciting to bring back a second time?
I sort of fell arse-backwards into this show. I hadn’t done a musical in ten years before this, since third- year drama school, and it’s certainly not traditionally my comfortable place. So it was a real baptism by fire for me, considering I sing a ballad onstage alone (more than a little terrifying). But this is our third run of this show now, so each time we tackle it, it’s becoming a little more polished and I actually (almost) enjoy singing my solo. As for the production itself, I was immediately drawn to it by the quality of the performers already attached to it. I could see that it was going to be a very subversive, irreverent take on a much-loved classic, and I could tell there would be a bit of room for me to do a fresh, eccentric take on a fairly archetypical character. Revisiting a comedy again is great, because it means you can finesse the jokes from last season, thinking about what made them work/not work, as well as completely cutting the really soggy ones that you flogged to death for minimal effect. Each time, it’s gotten a little sharper.
Calamity Jane is touted as being one of the most laugh out loud, fun musicals playing this year . What is it about this musical that you think makes the audience enjoy it so much?
It’s the immersive, improvisational nature of the show. We have audience members actually sitting onstage at rickety old tables as if they are patrons of the Golden Garter Saloon. We regularly break the fourth wall in this production (Is there even a wall? I’m not sure) and involve the audience in the action of the show. So, with incredibly naughty improvisers like Virginia Gay and Sheridan Harbridge onstage, audience members can expect to be drooled on at some point.
Anthony Gooley, Virginia Gay, Laura Bunting, Matthew Pearce. Photo Credit: John McRae
In between the runs of this show you went on to Assassins, also originating at the Hayes Theatre, before returning to Bill Hickock. As quite different pieces, how did you approach the challenge of keeping Bill alive through your Assassins run – what was your process for rediscovering him for this run of the show?
It really wasn’t difficult. We’ve done the show so much now that it really was just a matter of picking the script up again, looking at some of the old notes and the characterization comes back pretty quickly. The bigger challenge is rediscovering the beats and rhythms of the comedy.
As somewhat of a farce but certainly a comedic musical, what are the take-away messages or themes that you feel audiences can expect? What about this piece makes it perfect for today’s audiences? Who should see this show and what can they look forward to?
It’s the perfect time to have a heroine like Calamity Jane back on our stages again. Here we have a woman of phenomenal courage, heart, determination and character fighting to have her worth appreciated, and fighting for equality in a deeply masculine, misogynistic society. And I think, given the seismic shift that is taking place in gender relations around the globe at the moment, it has a lot of currency. Calamity (and particularly Virginia’s Calamity) is a stunning role model as she challenges outdated and archaic notions of femininity, or what it ‘should be’ to be a woman.
Tony Taylor, Virginia Gay, Anthony Gooley. Photo Credit: John McRae
Talk to us about working with this company – many of you have continued since the original production – how was it coming back together? Have any changes been made in rehearsals between the productions? What have been the challenges and joys of bringing this piece back to life, particularly with this team on the show?
It’s a great little bunch. Wonderfully mischievous performers with disgustingly crude tendencies. My favourite. We’ve spent so much time together now (and quite a bit more to come), so we’re very much a little family. And on top of this, we get to be part of a show that seems to bring people a lot of joy wherever we take it. So it really is a lovely gift in that sense. We’ve had one cast change along the way, Chrissy O’Neill joined us for our tour earlier in the year. She’s equally awesome and will be joining us again for our Melbourne seasons in December and January. So wherever we take this show, we’re guaranteed a wonderful group of people to bring it back to life each time.
What’s new for this run? Have any changes been made to the show? Any behind-the-scenes insights for our readers?
I wouldn’t say particularly. We’ve got Sheridan Harbridge back from our original season, which is awesome because she’s a theatrical deviant, as you know. But other than that, as I said, it’s really just about tightening gags and making sure the show can be the absolute best it can be.
Anthony Gooley, Sheridan Harbridge, Virginia Gay, Rob Johnson, Laura Bunting. Photo Credit: John McRae
What about Wild Bill Hickock will stay with you beyond the show? Has he taught you anything or has becoming him every day revealed anything new to you?
Well look. Bill is often the mouthpiece for the most offensively old-fashioned and objectifying views in the show. But I think the joy of Bill, and hopefully specifically in our production, is that over the course of the piece Bill grapples with these very limiting, narrow-minded attitudes and gradually starts to explore his own tenderness and vulnerability. So when you paint the picture of a very grizzled, hard-nosed, wild-west gunslinger at the top of the show, it’s fun to undercut that as the piece goes on. He’s a bit of a dick, really. But hopefully, an endearing one in the end.
Tony Taylor, Virginia Gay, Sheridan Harbridge. Photo Credit: John McRae
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS.
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Iain Sinclair's 'Killer Joe' for B Sharp
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
New Orleans, or Berlin.
Dream role to perform?
Richard III, or the Anarchist in Dario Fo's 'Accidental Death of an Anarchist'.
Plays or musicals?
I'm traditionally a play guy, and I think that's certainly where my strengths really lie. But I've absolutely loved this door opening into musical
theatre in the last 12 months. Eccentric, subversive, character-driven musical theatre.
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
Reading, watching movies. I'm not hugely adventurous in that department.
What’s next for you after this show?
Lots more 'Calamity Jane' hopefully, which is great. And some other acting and directing projects on the boil, but unfortunately they're still in the pipeline, so I can't go too much into those yet :)
Calamity Jane will play Belvoir from August 23rd-September 30th before continuing their tour - click here for tickets to the Belvoir season.