The Brisbane Arts Theatre adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning 'Next To Normal' set to lend lungs to those affected by mental illness.
Director David Harrison first adapted the musical in 2016, and was approached again by the Brisbane Arts Theatre “to take the reigns and direct it again. It's a real honour to be revisiting this. It's an amazing world.”
He says that upon attending the production, Brisbane Arts Theatre fell in love with it in the same way that he had, praising Brian Yorkey's original script. “It's a wonderful script with really fleshed-out characters, so in adapting it to a different stage, the story itself does the job. On Broadway, it's a three-storey set. It's (the current production) a smaller scale, looking through a window for an inside look into this family going through a hard time.”
“The beautiful thing about the show is that it's not trying to point fingers or anything like that. It gives a very good insight into the battle with mental illness as it affects the person who has it, their family, their children... Into the trail-on effect of battling with something like bipolar. The whole subject matter is dealt with in a very tender, respectful fashion.”
The original run of 'Next To Normal' received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010, with such accolades for a stage production being preceded only by the Broadway classic 'Rent'. It shows the process of a woman dealing with deep-set trauma through the lens of folk and rock music.
In line with its intention to de-stigmatise mental illness, 'Next To Normal' directly references classic novel and film 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest', alongside the well-documented cases of actress Frances Farmer and writer Sylvia Plath.
David attests, “it certainly explores ECT (electro-convulsive therapy), references lobotomy... It is a hard-hitting show. It doesn't back away from some of these curly questions. It's very relevant. As a general rule of thumb, members of the audience are going to empathise with at least one of the characters in the show, whether it be themselves or a partner or parents, or a daughter. It's definitely relevant to today's understanding of mental health.”
With original music written by Tom Kitt arranged by Hal Leonard, the show boasts a remarkable array of sonic landscapes. “It's amazing. The rock-folk feel, which changes from song to song and character to character... It's set in America, with the show being over ten years old now, and really reflects that setting. Rock is a great tool when we're starting to get into some of the real high-energy stuff, which generally reflects a conflict in the family. The musical direction is incredible,” he says.
When asked about what audiences can expect to experience and feel, the acclaimed director states, “Visually, it's going to be spectacular. There are bits of choreography, not a huge amount. It's much more of an actor's show. Lots of singing. I think the best part of this show is for people who haven't had experiences with mental illness to get a little bit of insight into that world.
“For those who have, going back when I did this three years ago, we'd have people coming up to us in tears saying 'yes, yes, it's exactly like this, thank you so much for telling our story'. Which is incredibly touching. It's important for these stories to be told.”
'Next To Normal' plays Brisbane Arts Theatre 23 February-23 March.