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.


Moonlite (Review)

On a blistering Sunday afternoon in a tiny subterranean room in one of the oldest pubs in Collingwood, magic was about to unfold. As a guest of the incomparable Steve Jager, the man behind the Australian Bushrangers page on Facebook as ell as familiar face to those who have seen The Legend of Ben Hall, Lawless: The Real Bushrangers or been bailed up by the nefarious Captain Red, I got the opportunity to see the new musical Moonlite, the first such depiction of Andrew George Scott to date. After stumbling across the poster artwork on Instagram I had been learning more about the production and plugging it wherever possible (as many of my followers will be familiar with).

Moonlite is being performed in the basement of the Grace Darling Hotel in Collingwood as part of the 2018 Midsumma Festival. The location is brilliant for it connects the show to the real stories as Moonlite was rumoured to have frequented the Grace Darling in his heyday. To get to the performance space you must stomp down a series of stone steps that is eerily reminiscent of Pentridge prison where Scott spent the majority of his time in Australia. Written and directed by Gabriel Bergmoser, Moonlite is an exploration of the man and the legend as perceived by those around him. Bergmoser is an experienced and decorated writer for such projects in addition to his reviews through his Movie Maintenance podcast and website Den of Geek. It should also be pointed out that Moonlite is a musical featuring music by Daniel Nixon that really creates the meat on the bones of this production, but more on that later.

An unconventional space: Moonlite at the Grace Darling Hotel

The through-line of Moonlite is a discussion between Falconer McDonald of Wantabadgery Station and two of Moonlite’s acolytes Thomas Rogan and Gus Wernicke. As the boys try to rationalise their adoration of their captain we see flashes of the real Andrew Scott poking through the holes in the veneer of a roguish hero Scott has masked himself with. It is decidedly more interested in questioning the validity of any opinion about Scott than depicting history accurately, which works tremendously well in this context. Scott’s life is so confusing to pin down specifically because so many untruths and half-truths were told and published even in his own lifetime that it has confused and baffled historians ever since. When we reach the rousing conclusion of the piece we are not left with definitive answers about who Scott was and what to think of him, rather with an understanding that there is no black and white answer. This could be problematic for some, but on this occasion it was clear that the moral ambiguity was just another added delight for the audience, many of whom would most likely know little to nothing about who Captain Moonlite was before taking their seats.

The band: Fran Evans, Esther Henderson, Josh Fuhrmeister and Matt Sheers

The musical is a medium that many turn their nose up at due to consistent tropes about  characters unrealistically breaking into song. Moonlite‘s music is a wonderful exception to that rule. The songs feel organic to the storytelling and never take the audience out of the moment. There are some real gems among the musical interludes including a reworking of “Star of the County Down” to illustrate the affection between Scott and Nesbitt and an upbeat lark depicting the trial for the Mount Egerton bank robbery.

Tim Constantine as Moonlite

The cast were brilliant performers who really worked hard to ensure the magic of the story kept the audience spellbound. This was a cast employed for their talent rather than their resemblance to the historical characters and this proves to be the key to the show’s success. Ryan Smedley’s earnestness as Nesbitt (here spelled Nesbit), Megan Scolyer-Gray’s vitality and sense of fun for Wernicke (here spelled Werneke), James Coley’s balancing act between acolyte and infidel as Rogan, Daniel Cosgrove’s fierce and moving performance as Falconer McDonald (in this production named Faulkner) and Katy Nethercote’s ever changing supporting characters from gentlewoman to judge were the driving force of the piece that helped to tie everything together around the delightfully camp and dominating performance by Tim Constantine as Captain Moonlite. This cast are funny, engaging and memorable and are an absolute asset to the production.

From left: Ryan Smedley, James Coley, Saxon Gray and Daniel Cosgrove

Moonlite is running during the Midsumma Festival until Febuary fourth, but tickets have sold like hotcakes with every performance sold out. Later on there are plans to do a regional tour, which is a brilliant idea and will hopefully see the show head to many of the locations associated with this amazing story. If you missed out on seeing the show this time around, fear not as there will be future opportunities to experience it. The production team are currently running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to have the show professionally recorded and produced as an album which is a great opportunity to support local artists and a great show. Moonlite is a rollicking good time from start to end with wonderful performances and clever writing from one of the country’s emerging talents. It was certainly a privilege to get the chance to go and see this performance, well done to all involved.

To check out the Moonlite crowdfunding campaign and donate, go here.

To check out Bitten By Productions on Facebook, go here.

To read about the process of putting Moonlite together go here.