Phillip Lowe on the magic and mystery of Big Fish

In Big Fish, the musical adaptation of Tim Burton’s 2003 cult classic film, Edward Bloom blurs the lines between reality and magic to narrate the events of his life to his son. Playing the role of Edward in the upcoming Hayes Theatre production, Phillip Lowe is in a unique position to find the truth behind the life of the capricious character – he spoke to us about his understanding of the show during early rehearsals, and has some interesting ideas about theatre magic, imagination, and how the show asks you to examine the use of fact versus fiction in everyday life.

Phillip Lowe in Big Fish. Photo credit: Chris Pavlich.

Big Fish is a story that unites reality with the utterly fantastical, how do you interpret the events of Edward’s life as recounted in the musical?

Edward longs to be a hero to his son. For whatever reason, he doesn’t think his life is “big” enough, so he tells these fantastic stories as a way of connecting with a boy who simply doesn’t like his dad being away all the time. Hidden in these stories is a kernel of truth but there is also some real magic that I don’t think Edward recognises.

Why is it important to imbue everyday life with a little bit of imagination?

It’s important to imbue life with a LOT of imagination! Imagination is the key to understanding. To be able to “walk a mile” in another person’s shoes takes imagination – unless you actually steal their shoes! No great discovery or revelation has been made without someone sitting down and going “What if…?” either consciously or unconsciously. Google Einstein’s work on time and relativity. That guy had one hell of an imagination!

Tim Burton’s films are known for their opulent visual universes, how will this production contain the magic of Big Fish within the small space of the Hayes?

That is the million dollar question! Our designers, Martelle Hunt and Anna Gardiner, have a job to do! We have a magic consultant, a circus consultant and a puppetry consultant who are joyously facing the challenges that the Hayes Theatre presents. The advantage we have at the Hayes is intimacy. Whatever they pull out of the hat (pun intended) will have a big impact in a small theatre. Every theatre has its challenges. Every theatre. If we were performing in a 2000 seater there would be even bigger challenges to overcome!

Do you have a favourite tale from Edward’s life?

How he proposes to his wife. Is it a fanciful tale or did he actually do it as recounted in the show? Like the show itself, whether it’s true or not is almost immaterial. I like to think he did. And yes, I’m not telling what happens. Come and see it.

Are there any similarities between yourself and your character?

Yes, we both desperately want to be loved and respected. That’s the universal appeal of Edward.

Why did you decide to become involved in Big Fish?

Phillip Lowe, Katrina Retallick and Kirby Burgess in Big Fish. Photo credit: Chris Pavlich.

This show has the most heartfelt score I’ve heard in years. I love the music. I also really like the fantasy element of the script and how it begs the audience to question what’s fact or fiction. I’m also very excited to be working with the creative team. Our director, Tyran Parke, is a mad genius. Along with choreographer Cameron Mitchell and musical director Luke Byrne, they are all just great guys who have that gift of getting the best out of people.

Is there a lyric in the show that resonates particularly for you?

There is a song in Act I, called ‘Daffodils’. Composer Andrew Lippa borrowed some of the lyrics for this song from ‘I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud’ by William Wordsworth. It’s not so much the lyrics themselves as the idea that Edward (mis)uses poetry to woo his wife.

What do you believe is the message of Big Fish?

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

Big Fish didn’t have a lengthy run on Broadway but is beloved by fans, do you believe this show has a future in the amateur theatre world?

There are a few reasons why Big Fish didn’t have a long run on Broadway, but most of them had little to do with the show itself. Rumour has it that it was originally intended to be an intimate chamber piece rather than the massive theatrical experience it was on Broadway. Unfortunately that could set a trap for the more cashed-up amateur companies who spend big in an effort to match the production values of professional musicals… This show most likely failed because it was over produced. To all amateur companies everywhere: stop trying to be as “big” as the professional shows. Just…. stop. Save your money, find the truth and tell the story. Think outside the box. Get a good director. Get some honest actors. Get creative. You’ll be fine. Rant over.

Photo credit: Chris Pavlich

Is there a difference in acting true-to-life scenarios versus magical/fantasy scenes?

I don’t think so. It all has to be done truthfully. Truth can be pretty magical anyway.

Why should audiences buy a ticket to Big Fish?

Firstly, we all genuinely love this piece. It has a beautiful score.

Secondly, for fans of the movie, it won’t let them down and yet it is different in ways that are unexpected.

Thirdly, the themes of the show are universal. It’s for anyone who has ever questioned their upbringing, or their parents, or how they are bringing up their own kids.

Fourthly, we have some very fine, honest actors, we have a brilliant creative team and we have some really clever answers to questions about how the show is going to work in a small theatre.

… But most of all, it is a really good play. People will be moved by this show. I still am.

Big Fish can be seen at the Hayes Theatre from 18 April, with tickets and more information at hayestheatre.com.au.

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Maddi is a performer who has been too scared to stand in the spotlight for the last few years, so she channels her need for love and appreciation into writing about the theatre instead. An energetic consumer of musical theatre, she is currently earning a degree in journalism and teaches voice in her small hometown. Maddi is normally covered in cat fur, has an opinion on everything, and in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, is not throwing away her shot.

Maddi has written 81 articles on AussieTheatre | Read more articles by

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Phillip Lowe on the magic and mystery of Big Fish
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