The Musical extravaganza Come From Away returns this week to Sydney’s Capitol Theatre. The Tony® and Olivier award-winning piece is sure to impress with an outstanding cast and an achingly beautiful score.
Sydney Observer was lucky enough to chat with two cast members from the show, Katrina Retallick, aged 49, playing the roles of Diane and Others and Doug Hansel, 39, jumping into the characters of Kevin T & Others.
Lockdown has been especially cruel for the arts. Are you able to tell us how you did/ didn’t struggle? How did you stay motivated?
KATRINA: I won’t lie. This latest lockdown was harder than last year’s, I think. The virus has felt closer and our children were vulnerable this time so it’s been stressful. Homeschooling this time has been draining. It has felt pretty rubbish to be so neglected by our government, yet again. Fortunately, I could access the disaster payment but I know that many of my fellow performers and artists could not. It’s been badly handled and I think that adds to the weight of it all. We were asked to keep fit and I think that’s been the key. I’ve been getting outside every day for walks and runs and a couple of dips in the sea- always a good idea. I’ve also given away alcohol which was just making me miserable and I’ve started some meditation. And of course, we have the luxury of having a job to return to so that’s definitely given me the motivation to stay on top of things.
DOUG: I’m not gonna lie…I think this lockdown was much harder than last year which almost felt a bit novel – people making the most of the strangeness and finding a new way of living. This time, having tasted freedom again, it felt quite brutal to be hurled back into lockdown, particularly when it was pretty clearly the result of incompetence and negligence from our governments. For our show, it was particularly tough as we were coming up to a cast change and suddenly found ourselves saying goodbye to members of our show family who never got to close off their time with Come From Away. I tried to allow myself to feel all the feels…I kept up a couple of outdoor gym training sessions a week, finished Netflix, did some reading…but there were times when I wanted to give a two-fingered salute to the universe, and I allowed myself to do that too.
An exciting run ahead for all of you. Does coming out of a lockdown make this show extra special in any way?
KATRINA: It absolutely does. The show is all about a community banding together and helping each other out. The parallels here with the virus and getting vaccinated are crystal clear. Also, sometimes we don’t know what we value until it’s taken away. Live entertainment, live storytelling might seem extraneous and non-essential but it’s an important part of being human, I believe. There’s nothing like it. There will be a lot of gratitude and emotion when we come back to the stage.
DOUG: Of course it does! When we came back out of the 2020 lockdown it became so clear that this was THE show for the moment…a story about community, sacrifice, caring for strangers, leading with kindness…somehow it was even more powerful than before the pandemic. After these four traumatic months, those themes are now even more acute and I think the show will be a real balm for people. And a release, actually.
Tell us which parts of performing you love and which parts you don’t love so much. Is it as glamorous as everybody thinks?
KATRINA: Glamorous? Opening nights in a new frock are great fun but no, the job is not glamorous. Every waking moment is dedicated to sustaining your fitness, vocal health and the mental strength required for 8 shows a week. It’s a marathon. And it’s a very anti-social marathon- we work when everyone else is relaxing. Also, it’s not at all family-friendly. This is the part I don’t love so much- that I miss out on family time. Having said that- the well is particularly full right now so I’ll be good to skip some bedtime reading! The parts of performing that I do love are countless. It’s a part of who I am, how I feel useful in the world, it’s what fills my heart and gives me joy. That all sounds corny but it’s true. Come From Away, in particular, is a gift to be a part of. It’s more than entertainment. It’s an affirmation that there are decent people in the world. You can see how that very simple idea leaves our audience in tears. It’s simple but so moving. I’d call that essential right now.
DOUG: The glamour is there, but it’s a very, very minuscule part of the job. Mostly it’s about turning up to the work and doing the job you’re paid to do to the best of your abilities on any given day. And sometimes that can be gruelling. And decidedly unglamorous. Personally, I love rediscovering things about my character and trying new things out within the confines of the piece that are non-negotiable. I’m not one of those people who can lock in performance and robotically churn the same thing out 8 times a week. We’re actors. We’re there to play!
Thousands of performers would love to be employed right now. How hard was it to get to where you are now and how long did it take to land your first role?
KATRINA: It’s been a long road but one that I’ve loved. I’ve been performing since I was a kid and professionally for 27 years. There have been some really crappy part-time jobs along the way and a lot of uncertainty. I earned my stripes in understudy roles for many years and it wasn’t until I was 32, that I got my first lead role of Nellie Forbush in South Pacific. Dream job! I haven’t been in all that many lengthy seasons of shows. I’ve generally done short seasons and a bit of film and tv so to find myself in a long-running, global hit is an incredible thing right now. I don’t take it for granted. We are a global family, with five companies around the world- and soon to be more- telling the story of these events.
DOUG: I don’t know where I am right now, apart from, kinda just where I am. Success is relative, right? I do know my career has been a steady climb since I graduated from WAAPA 18 years ago – at least it wasn’t a big bang followed by a flameout. I’ve worked pretty hard and been a bit obsessive about it and I’m fortunate to have worked in most of the major parts of the industry – film, TV, theatre, musical theatre, both here and overseas.
Do you have any wise words for any artists that might still be struggling as we leave this latest lockdown behind us?
KATRINA: Wise words? Stay the course. Add more strings to your bow and stay the course.
DOUG: It’s really difficult for artists because when you’re not doing that thing you do, who actually are you? Recently though, I (like everyone else) have really enjoyed listening to Ben Crowe (Ash Barty’s mindfulness coach) who emphasises the importance of not confusing what you do with your sense of worth as a human. I guess the thing I would say right now is to be really lenient and kind with yourself. Kinder almost than you think is reasonable, there’ll be time enough to come down on yourself like a tonne of bricks later!
The cast are ready for you to take your seats and indulge in some theatre therapy. The Arts are back and thriving once more.
You can find tickets for Come From Away here.
Photo Credits: Main Image: Doug on stage with Nicholas Brown.