Spotlight: Captain Thunderbolt Rides Again (1988)

Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), Thursday 10 November 1988, page 31


Captain Thunderbolt rides again

A “MUSIC-DRAMA” about the relationship between a singing bushranger and his opera-fancying girlfriend opens in Queanbeyan tonight. It is Captain Thunderbolt by local composer Vivien Arnold, who is also the director of the show.

Captain Thunderbolt, alias Frederick Ward, was in the habit of singing the Victorian parlour song, Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still, and was introduced to opera by Mary Ann Bugg, a half-caste Aboriginal, otherwise known as Queen Yellow-long.

Bugg developed her interest in opera while at boarding school in Sydney where she was sent by her father. She passed her enthusiasm on to Thunderbolt so throughly that he once bailed up a German band and made them play opera numbers.

Arnold said that though Thunderbolt took the band’s money initially, he later returned it “with a tip” and this was one aspect of his character which interested her.

Thunderbolt operated for seven years in the 1860s — at first west of Sydney and then north of Newcastle up to the Queensland border — and stole 20,000 pounds, but he was “the Robin Hood of Australia in many ways”, Arnold said. He would often let would-be victims keep their money if he found they were in need.

But the music-drama was “not totally one-sided” in favour of Thunderbolt. It was recognised that “robbery’s robbery after all” and Arnold attempted to show both sides and tried to make the characters as human as possible.

Arnold based the libretto of the show on a book called A Ghost Called Thunderbolt, by another local, Stephen Williams. Arnold worked from his manuscript before the book was published.

Arnold said she began writing the music-drama a little under two years ago and it took over a year to write part time. The cast began rehearsals in May and have “needed every second of the time”, because the music was quite difficult to perform, Arnold said.

There were two things she aimed for when composing the music, for it to be modern and at the same time reminiscent of 19th century music.

Arnold said a cast of very fine singers who were extremely dedicated and really believed in the music-drama had been assembled including Fran Bosley-Craft and Mary O’Brien. Thunderbolt is played by Lindsay Roe.

Arnold said the show was not like anything the Queanbeyan Players had done before. The fare was usually “light and frivolous”, but Captain Thunderbolt was a “music-drama — very sad . . . tear jerking”. The musical director is David Ellis and the assistant director Allan Cope.

Captain Thunderbolt will run at the Queanbeyan Community Centre from November 10 to 12 and 17 to 19 at 8pm. Tickets are available at the Lucky Star Kiosk, 119 Monaro St Queanbeyan,

and Bass outlets in the ACT. Tickets are $10.50 and $8.50 concession.

— MARK UHLMANN

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