When a man will mortgage his own home to bring a stage show to life, you’ve got to assume it’s something pretty special.
Such is the case for 3 Weeks in Spring, a unique, powerful and completely Australian musical theatre production, bringing the horrors of WWI’s Gallipoli campaign – and the famed Simpson and his Donkey – to the stage at the State Theatre this month.
For writer Ian Gerrard, creating this musical, from one inspired moment in a library 13 years ago, to the fully developed, professional production that it is today – has been a labour of love.
Gerrard told Hope 103.2 that when he couldn’t secure funding from producers who were focused on international acts, he and his family decided they’d risk a loan against their home to back the production. It’s a remarkable decision for a man who immigrated from the UK 20 years ago, knowing nothing about Anzac Day – except that it was on the same date as his birthday!
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Captivated by Courage and Innovation
Ian describes the moment when he first was captivated by the story of Simpson in 2006.
“I was in a library with my eldest daughter who at the time was three years old. I was browsing the shelves and this little pamphlet about Simpson and his donkey jumped out at me.”
The legendary Simpson was John (Jack) Simpson Kirkpatrick, who in the space of just three weeks became famous on the battlefield at Gallipoli, not only for his unique method of transporting wounded comrades on the backs of donkeys, but for his cheerful, fearless demeanour. He would sing and whistle as bullets flew all around.
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“I thought it was a fantastic story,” Gerrard said. “This guy who was English ended up in Australia almost as an illegal immigrant, and signed up to the Australian Imperial Force because he thought he’d get a free ticket to the UK and get to fight in France. But of course they got sent to Gallipoli.
“I think if people see the show they won’t see a glorification of war. It’s not about saying this is something to celebrate, but about something we can learn from.”
“He was a rogue and a rebel, always prepared to challenge authority.
He was a stretcher-bearer, and when the two men either side of him were shot, he made it his personal mission to save as many men as he could – by trying to break the rules. He saw these donkeys and recognised that using them he could save more lives. He saved about 300 men.
“From that story, I’ve created the character of a man who does everything he can, not just to save men physically but emotionally as well.”
Courage and Sacrifice, Love and Loss
3 Weeks in Spring combines messages around the horror and futility of war, with themes of the humour and the larrikin spirit Australians soldiers were known for.
The show brings to the spotlight some emerging talents including Lincoln Elliot (Ned, Funny Girl), Lachlan O’Brien (Chicago, Good Omens), Matthew Herne (The Voice, Phantom of the Opera), Courtney Powell (Australian Idol, Central Park – The Musical) and Isabel Young (The Sound of Music). Director Linda Aubrecht has earnt her stripes with shows like Disney on Ice and We Will Rock You.
The soundtrack album, written by Russell Tredinnick, was released this year on ANZAC Day, and features songs with titles like Fight On, Push Through, The Longest Haul, Lighten the Mood, When’s Daddy Coming Home?, and We Go at Dawn.
Asked whether the musical glorifies or celebrates war, Gerrard is emphatic that it doesn’t; rather it brings its tragic, wasteful reality to the forefront.
“The themes Anzac Day has generated in terms of courage and sacrifice and love and loss and unlikely heroes, are epic themes in exploring the human condition,” Gerrard said.
“I think if people see the show they won’t see a glorification of war. It’s not about saying this is something to celebrate, but about something we can learn from. One of the reasons for telling the story in this way is to bring it to a new audience, to learn about war and what it means.
“There’s a song in the show called where the soldiers, say “what is the point”. That’s something politicians need to pay attention to; to think very, very carefully about what are life and death decisions.”