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Q&A with Hugh Lunn: behind the State Of Origin musical

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Q&A with Hugh Lunn: behind the State Of Origin musical

We were baffled and curious when the Courier Mail reported a new musical about the Rugby League State Of Origin was being penned by noted author Hugh Lunn. Naturally we had a few questions...

Firstly, how did this idea first come to you? Did it take a while to flesh out?

The Rockwiz crew (SBS) were touring 1,000 miles of Queensland and wanted to do a ten-minute radio serial on stage with some Queensland music. They asked me and I thought the only thing binding the whole state was State Of Origin. I remembered that when Queensland finally won the Sheffield Shield after 100-odd years the Shield toured Queensland and people lined the streets of small towns to clap as it went past… my mother-in-law saw it pass through Charleville 500 miles west of Bne. So out of the blue I came up with the idea that the SOO series would have its first-ever tie and a FOURTH deciding match would be played in Townsville. The QRL, to excite people decide to unscrew the golden King Wally statue from its plinth outside Lang Park and parade it through the state – aiming to arrive at the ground in Townsville ten minutes before the game starts. NSW steals the stuate and Kevin Rudd hires a beautiful nightclub singer, Julia, to get it back...

I listened to every Queensland song I could find to get the best few and found 15 beauties that would work in my story and enthrall the audience. But there was no time to fit much into the 10-minute serials – and so I decided the songs were so germaine and as good as anything Lloyd Webber wrote that I could write a great musical by using my inside knowledge of the first SOO, as I was at the dinner in the boardroom before the match and sat next to QRL President Senator Ron McAuliffe during the match – as I had talked him into holding it. I took notes at the time to capture his Churchillian art of speech.

It seems an odd match. Is the musical intended to be ironic, or knowing, or will it be played completely straight?

The musical will be uplifting for the whole state after a terrible toll taken by floods and cyclones in the past two years. It will not be ironic. It will be very humourous.

State of Origin is a much loved tradition in the league world, but how will this translate to the theatre audience? There doesn't seem to be a huge crossover.

Theatres complains people aren’t turning up – yet every second year in Brisbane there are 125,000 Origin tickets for sale and they are gone in 20 minutes. I can never get one. Theatre, as Shakespeare proved, is for the masses – and this gives them a reason to go: most Aussies don’t relate to Chekov’s Cherry Garden!

Will it be an official tie-in with NRL, or separate?

The QRL or NRL are welcome to climb on board if they want to be in on a winner.

How will you get the actual league aspects across? Will there be much playing on the stage?

In my 1996 play Over The Top With Jim (seen by 40,000) there was the first rugby league match ever on stage – Mary Immaculate Convent versus the State School Kids: directed by league fanatic and former referee Bille Brown. But they won’t, at the moment, be playing in this one. Though it could end up happening. I’m willing to take advice from theatrical experts closer to the time.

What's the reaction been like so far, when people learn of this project?

People just about leap into my lap when I tell them – especially reporters. Their first words are “I want to order some front row seats”. But there is a fair way to go and it needs theatre or a festival or an organisation to back to me up – and I’m working positively on that and, after 18 months of trying, now getting somewhere.

- The Music Network