Blak Yak Community Theatre is about to go to prison. Lorna Mackie, president of Blak Yak, is directing Bad Girls: The Musical, based on the ITV1 women’s prison drama Bad Girls, written by Maureen Chadwick and Ann McManus. Mackie took some time out from rehearsals to tell us her thoughts on the show, its stellar cast, and what audiences can look forward to.
You’re known for directing offbeat, not-so-well-known musicals. How did you come across Bad Girls: The Musical, and what made you want to produce it?
I keep my eye out for unusual musicals all the time – there is such a range of musical talent producing contemporary musicals, I love bringing new work to the public and giving these musicals a chance to be seen and heard. I came across Bad Girls on the West End about 10 years ago, and I loved both the music and the concept. When it appeared available for licensing on Hal Leonard, I jumped at the chance.
I am drawn to scripts with strong female characters, and you don’t get much stronger than the women of HMP Larkhall. I was particularly drawn to Bad Girls because it explores some very dark concepts, from a sensitive human perspective – anyone seeing the show can’t help but empathise with these women and the situations they experience.
I have – I grew up in the UK, and it was a family staple. I really enjoy the original series original; I think it was groundbreaking in its display of gay and lesbian relationships in a homo-normative situation, rather than against a backdrop of heterosexuality. However, apart from the character backgrounds and a very general plot line, the musical does not have much in common with the tv series, despite the book being written by the authors of the tv show. The musical is much more fast paced, and uses humour a lot more than the original series to lighten the darker plot lines.
Bad Girls, Prisoner, Orange Is the New Black, Wentworth – What do you think it is about women’s prisons that provide such good fodder for entertainment?
I think shows like this are one of the few format were we get to see really strong female characters without the distractions of the “lead man” syndrome so prevalent in a lot of writing. It is also one of the few formats where the women can have character development that does not centre around solely their sexuality and attractiveness to men. These shows challenge our perspectives on people; it is so easy to label people with things that have happened in their lives, but Bad Girls and shows like it give you a chance to explore the people and situations that have led them to their current state. The opening number, “ I shouldn’t be here” does just that, as does the absolute showstopper, “Sorry” in the second act.
Tell us about the cast and the casting process for the show. Normally in am-dram, female auditioners far outweigh male ones, so I imagine you didn’t have any shortage of suitable candidates.
I took a very different approach to this show; rather than holding open auditions, I precast. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted for the show, and only wanted to do the show if I could have specific people in the roles. The depth of feeling, vocal range and intensity required to effectively pull off the show is incredible, and I am proud to say that I have the most talented cast I have ever worked with. They have absolutely stepped up to the such an emotionally challenging show.
The show is very emotional, and it would be easy to slip over into melodrama; we have had to work carefully to show the depth of emotion without crossing the line.
Favourites of the show are the closing sequence of act one, a spectacular number which incorporates acting, dancing and a large fight sequence (I don’t want to give too much away), the stunning love song between Nikki and Helen, “Every Night” and the heartbreaking “Sorry” sung by the character Julie Saunders, sure to bring the audience to tears.
The most challenging number in the show by far was “The Key”, performed by the character of Jim Fenner. It is the darkest moment of the show, and the staging of the song was something I thought long and hard about. I ended up going for a very understated, almost still performance, which Tom Hutton, in the character of Jim Fenner pulls off spectacularly, although we may need to organise security for poor Tom after the show!
Blak Yak is a community theatre without a physical home base, but I believe this will be its second production at Chrissie Parrott Arts in Maylands. How do you find suitable venues in Perth for Blak Yak shows, especially when affordable ones are difficult to come by?
It is an ongoing challenge. We have a number of partnerships with venues that we return to periodically where we have built up good relationships, such as Rigby’s in Perth CBD, which proves that we can create a mutually beneficial relationship, however it is getting harder to find new venues. Most of the state run venues are simply outside of the reach of a small community theatre. We have found increasingly that community spaces such as town halls, clubs and the like are more receptive to allowing us to perform as an alternative offering to their own communities, but these venues require a different approach to staging; most venues simply can not accommodate traditional box sets or proscenium arches.
Another key challenge for us is that where we can find venues, few of them will allow us to rehearse there so we usually have a very short period to set up and tech and dress rehearse the show.
What will audiences find most surprising and delightful about Bad Girls – The Musical?
I think audiences will be surprised by the subject matter; the show does not shy away from the serious or difficult stuff: rape, domestic violence, abuse, corruption all are tackled, as well as government and systemic abuses of power. However, it is dealt with sensitively, from the perspective of the women it affects. The cast are truly stellar, and they have taken to the subject matter with grace. The depth of emotion, and the way in which they have understood their characters is shown in the sensitivity and depth of their performances.
Bad Girls: The Musical runs from 28 July to 13 Aug at Chrissie Parrott Arts in Maylands. For more information, visit the Blak Yak website here.