Beyond Desire is now playing at the Hayes Theatre Company in Potts Point and for writer, director, and producer Neil Rutherford it’s a dream come true to see his Edwardian whodunit mystery musical come to life on the Hayes Theatre stage. Securing Nancye Hayes, the theatre’s namesake, in one of the pivotal roles was the icing on the cake.
“I keep telling everyone in England that it’s a bit like having Judi Dench in the cast. That’s what it feels like”, Rutherford said, with his English lilt.
“What she brings to the stage alongside all these other incredible actors is really exciting. I’m slightly intimidated in a funny sort of way. A brilliant way, really. One thing I have learnt about her is that she is a team player. There’s no diva. There’s no agenda. It’s rather brilliant.”
Rutherford has assembled a genius cast for the production, and after working on the material for over half of his life, he is thrilled with the result. Blake Bowden, Ross Hannaford, Chloe Dallimore, Phillip Lowe, Tony Cogin, Christy Sullivan and David Bulters star alongside Hayes in the show, which Rutherford describes as Downton Abbey meets Poirot in musical form.
“They are incredible. I mean, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined it would turn out like this! Every single one of them! I’m so happy, it’s fantastic – but, I have spent a significant part of my adult life as an international casting director, so if I can’t get the cast right I’m in trouble really, aren’t I?”, he laughed.
Set in 1910, Edwardian England, Beyond Desire tells the story of a family who have secrets. Borrowing an underlying dramatic structure from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (father dies, mother remarries, son lives in mourning for father and doesn’t understand, searches for revenge) and themes of same-sex love from E.M Forster’s novel Maurice, the show is, in a nutshell a family drama which deals with issues everyone can relate to. Pushing the piece into the Edwardian era not only capitalises on the 21st century obsession with period drama (the highly successful Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs are prime examples) but also allows the barriers and restrictions of the era to heighten struggles of the piece.
“I set it specifically in 1910 because it is regarded as the year in gay history where it was the first time men could be seen to be out together. There was a coffee shop in Piccadilly which had a ‘gays only’ area, which was very radical for its time. Of course in terms of women’s struggles – and we have several very strong female characters in the show – suffrage and the suffragette movement came about 1911-12”, Rutherford explained.
“And the music is very much in the flavour of the time – Elgar, Ravel, Debussy -it has a style to it. People have commented that it sounds Sondheim-esque but in fact, Kieran’s influences are earlier than that.”
Over 25 years, Rutherford and Drury have built their piece from one single song, written while still at university to the two act musical opening tonight. With six drafts, three readings and one workshop of the piece – some in London and some in Australia – the pair have worked on the material for more than half their lives.
For Rutherford, an accomplished musician as well as performer, writer and director, it was important to find a musical director who would have the right sensibility for the piece, and he found it in a fellow Rutherford (although no relation), Peter.
“The brilliant Peter Rutherford,” he sighs, with a smile.
Peter Rutherford leads a chamber orchestra of piano, harp, cello, violin, horn, clarinet, bass clarinet for the production, which features a “big score” with 28 musical numbers.
“Part of what we have done musically is we have interwoven lots of clues within the music. So when some certain character we reference there will be a link to their theme so for those who understand music will get a little extra there. Yes, it’s a big score and it’s a big sing but it’s also quite varied. There’s lots and lots of fun even thought it’s effectively a whodunit mystery. There are lots of little clues in the set, in the art work, the logo”, Neil Rutherford explained.
Despite being a British national, choosing to present this work in Australia at the Hayes Theatre Co was right for Rutherford.
“When it comes to a new and original story, very few producers are brave enough to take on a new, unknown piece. I really had to do it myself. It’s what I love. It’s written for a small venue, to be an intimate piece of theatre, not to go up against any of the big musicals, because, god knows I’m part of those big musicals in one way or another.”
After three weeks in the rehearsal room, a few previews and two official ‘opening’ performances, Beyond Desire is here and Rutherford believes that not only is the show ready for its audience, but that audiences are ready for this work.
“I think there is a need for something that is a little deeper on our musical stages. And, I think everybody has a slightly odd family. Every single one of us – we all have somewhere in the family the black sheep, somewhere in the family the liar, somewhere in our not to distant past is some struggle that someone has had to go through and overcome something. We all associate with it. I think that’s a great thing now to be be able to put on stage.”
“I have no doubt that everyone will be able to relate to the story in some way, and then of course the joy is what we take away from it.”
Beyond Desire premiered on Wednesday night at the Hayes Theatre Company at plays until Sunday 14 December.