By Jake Goodall
Ireland’s infamous legend ‘Deirdre of the Sorrows’ comes to life with a musical retelling by Brisbane writer and composer Anina-Marie Van Wyk in Observatory Theatre’s Destiny Doomed.
Performed under the stars in the heart of South Brisbane, this outdoor production features an original acoustic folk-pop score, set against the leafy background of Musgrave Park. Destiny Doomed combines heartfelt storytelling with strong messages about mastering your life and finding your place in the world.
Bravo Brisbane was thrilled to sit down with Jesse Blachut (Maigne), Clarise Ooi (Deirdre), Laura Fois (Blathnaid & Scathach), Sara Jane Aistrope (Movement Director), Kieran J Evans (King Conchubar) & Anina-Marie Van Wyk (Writer, Composer, Musical Director & Director)
New musical works are almost unheard of in Australia. How does it feel to be part of musical history?
Jesse: It’s really exciting. It’s a strange feeling; not simply being able to listen to a musical score on repeat in order to learn the music and characters, but it has been really fun so far. It puts a large onus back onto the performer as there is no set way in which the character “must” be performed, but it’s also really great to have the opportunity to be creative in this way and try to build a character from the ground up. It’s also really cool to know that whatever you end up creating and bringing out for the audience on performance night, is genuinely something they have never seen before. I think that’s a really cool privilege.
Clarise: It’s a very exciting time that’s for sure. There’s an extra sense of freedom in exploring and developing the character as the role is very much open to interpretation.
Laura: I am sure there’s a lot of new works in Australia that would deserve to be seen. The fact that seeing a new musical is so rare is disappointing, which makes to be part of a new one very exciting, particularly as I am sure this is just the beginning of this marvelous musical story for Destiny Doomed. Not having anyone, aside from the writer, to have played a role before you makes it so personal and free from pre-build ideas making this performing experience absolutely magic. In a way the possibility to find the characters from “the outside” if off the table: even if inspired from the world around you they need to come totally through you.
Kieran: Fabulous, really. I believe more writers should definitely turn their talents to musicals, plays, and any sort of stage. So much can be said and interpreted from art, whether it be reinventing folklore as more than a tale of tragedy and woe, or the struggles of people unduly oppressed by people thinking only with their littler brains.
This story has been rewritten to give Deirdre agency. How have you developed your character to ensure this strong female story points through?
Jesse: To be totally honest, I haven’t really felt compelled to do this. The script is the script, and the story is the story. I trust Anina to have the show display in the way she wants it to, and to have the necessary themes brought into focus. I’m mainly just focused on building a good foundation by singing and acting well, and when you do that with a good script, generally the rest of the architecture will fall into place. It’s just important for me to do good work and also be flexible in adjusting that work so that Aninas’ vision comes to life in a really great way.
Clarise: Deirdre initially starts off very young and naïve, but she develops a lot throughout the story due to having more support from the other characters at her disposal. Given experiences are what shapes and makes a person stronger, I’m looking forward to portraying Deirdre’s growth as a character that inspires young people to embrace their individual potential.
Laura: I really love how Anina re wrote the story to turn Deirdre into the master of her own fate, rather than the pretty subject of a man’s prophecy. To get into Blathnaid and Scathach characters I’m taking inspiration from women in my life, from women stories and my own life. I think there’s a little bit of Blathnaid and Scathach in all of us. I did look into the mythology and stories of Irish warrior queens, which I always found very inspiring (Boadicea, Grace O’Malley…). Further, I have been working and studying in a mainly men environment for very long time so I do find in my experience some of the anger that those women feel. Unfortunately, these story is not as far from today as we think it should be. In a way, this story is all around us, all the time and there is plenty of strong women and fighters that provide amazing inspirations.
Kieran: It’s phenomenal being able to bring a background and voice to the character, even one as entitled and vile as King Conchubar. My character is the cliché epitome of male faux-superiority that rears it’s ugly head from yesteryear. And boy howdy does he run afoul of a strong female character that really sticks it to The Man™
With the overwhelming support for women’s agency from around the world pouring into the US after the overturning of Roe v Wade, how do you feel this story contributes to supporting women and their voice?
Jesse: I think the question is more in respect to the backlash rather than the support? While there are no direct comparables within the script in relation to the current political and legal situation in the United States, I think there are some holistic connections. I think it’s fantastic to see more young, female writers and artists, and at the very least I hope that some people leave the show holding their heads a little higher – with even just a bit more belief in their own potential, both artistically and politically. That’s quite important to me, and in essence was the primary reason that I wanted to be a part of the show.
Clarise: I hope this story can remind young people, particularly women, how important it is to step into your own power, especially when push comes to shove. It’s common for women to downplay ourselves due to upbringing, but it’s only through standing your ground can you gain respect from those around you.
Laura: I think every bit helps. Everything that makes feel a young woman inspired and empowered to be anything out of the mold that was built for her, anything that makes a boy looking at a story and thinking “this is not right” or “I admire that girl” and give him tools to stand up against patriarchy in every way, every hint to an old woman that a lot of what she had to go through and suffered for wasn’t her fault or caused by her beauty of which she still feels guilty about, any of that will help. And I think this musical is doing just that, inspiring and posing questions. At this very moment in time we need to change things here and now, but we can’t forget about focusing on how we built the future. And I think this is how we do it, giving food for thoughts and critical thinking to the next generation that will be soon be in charge of their own fate and destiny, so that it is anything but doomed.
Kieran: This piece has a strong over-arching message of divine womanhood and the power of your inner dragon, and that nothing and nobody should control, or do a damage unto you. It is your destiny to take your life by the reins and run roughshod over anybody fool enough to sanction you. The songs are fun too!
Many people know what a choreographer does, but as a Movement Director, could you give us an insight into how this differs from traditional choreography?
Sara Jane: Choreographers generally just work on the dance sequences in a production whereas my role as movement director extends a bit further. In addition to choreographing, I am tasked with smoothly transitioning the performers from one scene and setting to the next, I also get to assist Anina with scene blocking and developing the physicality of each character.
Set in the 8 th or 9 th century, how are you drawing from that time period to influence your movement?
Sara Jane: Throughout the Middle Ages, and in our show, people had a strong sense of spirituality and connection to the Earth and nature, this inspired me to create movements and shapes that feel ethereal, grounded and moved by the natural elements. There isn’t a lot of recorded history on how people danced in the Middle Ages, especially around the 8th and 9th centuries. However, we do know dance was used to entertain, to celebrate and to bring people together. Artwork from this time often features people dancing in circular patterns, around objects and with partners and I have enjoyed including these elements into the show.
Working with a full female creative team is perfect for this show, how has working with Anina & the rest of the creative team assisted you in developing your creative self expression?
Sara Jane: The creative team, headed by the fabulous Anina, is a dream. The working
environment allows me to think more broadly, more creatively and be unafraid of imperfection. From the get-go I haven’t felt like I need to prove myself, I feel comfortable to suggest ideas and ask questions knowing that my thoughts are always heard and appreciated. I enter every rehearsal knowing I have a collaborative team ready to work with me and bring our ideas to life.
The show contains a strong female lead & story line, how do you hope this show inspires young women?
Anina: To be honest, I actually think I wrote this show for my own younger self. The female characters embody all the divine feminine strength I wish I found in myself at a younger age. It’s only now that I’m finally beginning to tap into my power and standing confidently in my own self. I hope that this show inspires everyone who sees it to harness their inner dragon. Don’t be afraid of your own power (that inner darkness we all posses), embrace it, unleash it!
As a young female writer have you yourself faced criticism? How did you push back
Anina: As a general rule, society doesn’t seem to believe that writing theatre or music is a viable career plan. Despite billions of people streaming music and tv shows across the globe on a daily basis. I have faced so many external obstacles. People (even romantic partners) have even convinced me to sideline my writing to pursue other career paths in the past. I’ve been told my music is too slow, that my songs aren’t “dancy” enough. But in the end I realised that I am my own worst critic. I’m the one who accepted those criticisms and let society and even people that I loved derail my dreams. It was only after I decided to stop listening, that I finally wrote this show. My advice for overcoming criticism: stop listening to everyone else, banish that little voice inside your head that tells you you can’t, that tells you it’s not good enough and just f**cking do it anyway.
You are taking on such a large amount of roles in this show, writer, composer, director and musical director, it is extremely impressive! How do you hope this helps young
Anina: It is certainly a monumental task, let me tell you. I am juggling a lot of different things and sometimes it can feel almost overwhelming. Right now, I am simply exhausted! But when I’m in the rehearsal room with the amazingly talented actors and my team, there is just nothing else like it. There is nothing as satisfying as seeing your own work come to life.
Luckily, I have an amazing team supporting me. Without them, none of this would be possible. Thanks to my brilliant producer, Lachlan Driscoll, at Observatory Theatre, who helped me to polish the writing for the show earlier this year and took a chance on Destiny Doomed. I also have an amazing team helping me with the music including the talented Elliot Gough (who is producing all of our music tracks) with the help of percussionist, Tristan Hargreaves. The stunning Georg Gleeson is helping me as a vocal coach. And when it comes to directing, I can’t speak highly enough of my Movement Director Sara Jane Aistrope and Assistant Director Zarianna Chandler. And of course no show could succeed without a Stage Manager and for that we have Charlotte Carter. To young creatives I would say simply this: if you have a dream, if you have an idea (no matter how silly you think it is) put it out there into the world, realise it. Because nothing will ever compare to the joy of seeing your ideas come to life. Don’t let anything hold you back. Your work will attract the right team, the right people who can support you. And that’s where the magic truly happens; in the collaboration of creative minds.