Interview: Schapelle, Schapelle the Musical comes to the Sydney Comedy Festival!

You know the name, you know the story, you know the media frenzy surrounding it, but have you seen the musical? We sat down with co-creator of Schapelle, Schapelle the Musical, Gareth Thomson, to talk all things Corby!

After their successful season at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the fast-paced musical comedy Schapelle, Schapelle will head to the Sydney and Brisbane Comedy Festivals from May to June. Theatre Thoughts creator, Justin Clarke, sat down with co-writer Gareth Thomson to talk about how the show came to be and what audiences should expect.

Convicts, wild yarns and tabloid bluster come alive in this high-energy musical satire of the Australian media and its favourite criminal case in decades, the Schapelle Corby saga.

Schapelle Schapelle is a rally cry for the battler, a love letter to the last outpost of larrikinism – Queensland, and a cautionary tale of what happens when cynical loudmouths and ruthless hustlers are in charge of the soap box – all spun together with a rollicking original score.

The book was written by Mitch Lourigan, Gareth Thomson, Jack Dodds and Abby Gallaway, with music by Jack Dodds, Gabbi Bolt and Tim Hansen, and Gareth Thompson also helping out on the lyrics. Abby Gallaway was also director and choreographer.


Justin: So, I guess the first thing I must ask is, where did the idea of turning Schapelle Corby’s story into a musical come from?

Gareth: Well, it really started as a university project. A bunch of us were just sort of chatting and thinking about what to do for our final project at university, it was like one of our final things we had to do, and someone mentioned Rochelle, Rochelle the Musical from Seinfeld. This was this reoccurring gag in the series that was a musical, then a book, then a movie and so on, and someone went, what if that was Schapelle, Schapelle the Musical instead? And it sort of just stuck with us. So, it was literally born in a university hallway. It was one of those ideas that was just enough to really pique your interest when you hear it and want to know more about it.

Justin: Did you have any challenges you faced when it came to writing the full show?

Gareth: The main thing we always kept in mind when it came to writing the book and the music was, what story are we trying to tell? Because a lot of it is public knowledge and it’s been highlighted to death by the media, especially at the initial time of her arrest. So, the media were fascinated by it. We knew it was a tricky concept because you’re dealing with a public figure, so we had to be really clear about what story we wanted to tell, and we do focus on the media a lot. We really focused on showing the typical Queensland Aussie larrikin figures that we’re all familiar with, because Queensland is arguably, quintessentially the home of the larrikin and so we were able to build this joyous subtropical romp from the people involved in the story.

We won some money and were able to take it on tour, so this was when we really had to transform the story into something similar to a revue. We always knew that this was a musical and we wanted to keep it to that structure, but the essence became more revue-like, and we knew we had to take the content seriously. So, we try to not take a position on her [Schapelle’s] guilt but we focus much more on Australia’s fascination with the story itself – particularly the media’s control on it. Probably a main challenge was that we knew we had to stay true to Schapelle’s statements of innocence – but it definitely became more of a story about the media as times gone on.

Justin: It definitely had Australia fascinated by the whole story, I remember watching her being sentenced on the news and then still remember when she was eventually released. Have you been surprised by the audiences’ reception of the show?

Gareth: That’s a tough question to answer because I guess not everybody has a strong opinion about her [Schapelle’s] story, but it feels good when the audience really come on board with the story we’re telling. The overarching rule we have with the show is that we are telling something ridiculous. So, we did have some more reflective audiences in Melbourne in the smaller audiences, which reminded us about the material, but then we also had full houses who were extremely receptive and saw what we created.

Justin: Well, you’re right about the ridiculousness because when we booked tickets I said to myself, I don’t know anything about this show, but the name alone sounds incredible, so I’m in!

 Gareth: It’s funny actually because when we were in Melbourne, I went to a coffee shop and spoke to the person serving me coffee and when she mentioned the [Melbourne International Comedy] festival I said, “Oh yeah I’m here for the festival, I’m doing Schapelle, Schapelle the Musical.” And she said, “Oh no way, my friend literally bought me tickets for that the other day, it sounds ridiculous!”

Justin: You’re coming to Sydney soon for the Sydney Comedy Festival, what should audiences expect when they come see it?

Gareth: Expect it to be a love letter to the Queensland larrikin but also a cautionary tale about what happens in media landscapes who are only after selling clicks. It’s about what happens when the human at the centre of these mass media stories gets lost. We know that Schapelle had to be this demure, ingenue-like character to stand out against the craziness of the media’s control and attention to the story. But mostly it’s ridiculous, larrikin, surfboarding fun as well. I guess if you were to expect anything, it’s that there’s a lot of stuff in there to pick apart. Something to make them laugh, something to make them cry. But yeah, the whole journey has just been ridiculous and amazing. So, expect ridiculous and amazing.

Schapelle, Schapelle the Musical plays at the Factory Theatre from Thursday 12th – 14th May. Tickets and information can be found here.

The show then goes to the Brisbane Comedy Festival and plays at the Underground Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse from Tuesday 24th May to Sunday 5th June. Tickets and information can be found here.

The ensemble of Schapelle Schapelle gratefully acknowledges the support of the Blair Milan Touring Fund, which has been instrumental in the development of the production, in 2018 and again in 2022.


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