Brisbane playwright Bradley McCaw shines a spotlight on the trauma that impacts families and the love and honesty that heals in the award-winning new musical Becoming Bill coming to Brisbane Powerhouse in mid-August.
This acclaimed Brisbane playwright, vocalist and musician already has a slew of momentous career highlights. Just a few years after finding his passion for singing and playing the piano in his mid-teens, the largely untrained talent became one of the Ten Tenors. From there he’s performed across the globe, including a cabaret show in Australia and New York. Reaching stardom in your 20s can be complicated. Brad notes that he spent 10 years of his life trying to find his place and passion where he could best provide something of meaning in the entertainment business. Underneath all of what he has achieved and aims to do, community and family are central to him. “It is a theme in all of my plays” he said.
Some of his plays to date include: Everybody’s Doing It – an exploration of school leavers’ intimacy and the pressures we all feel at that age; The Game – about a brother and sister getting sucked into a video game. A family fractured and brought back together. It has been performed over a dozen times in Australia and is now being performed in the United Kingdom. Any Moment – a musical that starts on New Year’s Eve and explores families as they work out the most relevant moments in their lives and come to the realisation that often what we all do is about impressing others as opposed to having integral moments with our children.
Becoming Bill is Brad’s first professional stage production: “Getting this team together and doing it in Brisbane and having people resonate with this story is huge. People need to turn up to hear about it. It’s a difficult play to advertise – people don’t know how to label it. We talk about truth and it’s so important,” said Brad.
Brad outlines that this is the story of a family that is fractured and it’s about those who come together after a traumatic time: “Fast forward to 10 or 15 years later and life brings opportunities to look backwards and acknowledge that they’re stuck. We ask: What led them here and what led to them being stuck? Becoming Bill is about looking inside yourself and reviewing the experiences that lead you to be where you are in a gentle way,” he says.
Director Neil Gooding is a Broadway producer who has come to Australia to direct this play because he believes in its content. “The quality of the show is exciting and unexpected for Brisbane. It’s existing in this bubble on its own. It is a supported but quiet production happening by many little miracles,” said Brad.
Well known screen and stage Actor Rachael Beck plays Bill’s mother. She’s an acclaimed vocal artist and actress. Rachael’s theatrical highlights include: Truly Scrumptious in the national tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; Sally Bowles in IMG’s Cabaret amongst many others. She is widely remembered for her award-winning role as Belle opposite Hugh Jackman in Beauty and the Beast. Rachael appeared as Lisa Parker in Home & Away and other screen credits include City Homicide, Stingers, Mercury, The Feds, This Man This Woman, GP, Flying Doctors, and Hey Dad. She also appeared in the film Ocean Boulevard and as a coach in Channel 7’s It Takes Two. She has also developed The Lionhearted Theatre and Arts Program with workshops currently running in high schools throughout Australia, helping students to unearth mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and disconnection by helping them tell their story using the creative arts. Rachael is a proud Ambassador of the Australian Children’s Music Foundation.
Becoming Bill is described as the story of single mum Jane and her two twenty-something boys. Or should that be men? No, boys. Still it’s a normal enough life, not perfect and she’s getting through … until son number one, Bill, decides to write a musical – about his family! Bill’s doing OK. He’s got his own flat, a job and an on-again-off-again girlfriend. But he also has a brother who called in to play video games three months ago and hasn’t left. Mum just can’t quite find the balance between letting go and helping out. Becoming Bill is a heart-warming and comical look at the quirks and struggles of this perfectly normal but slightly off-beat family – an award-winning new musical that everyone will fall in love with.
Brad notes that 9 years ago he was asked to write an auto biographical musical. He laughs as he says: “So it has taken years to do what we’re about to take to the stage this year. A lot of people can see their experiences through this play and it’s something they can relate to that isn’t often talked about. The things that are difficult to articulate – honesty and the past aren’t easy to talk about in a gentle way.” He acknowledges that writing this play with such complex and real themes was arduous.
“The play is semi auto biographical. We meet Bill and his brother James and Jane, their Mum. Bill’s on and off again girlfriend Kimberley is also featured. Kimberley often says to Bill: ‘You’re so close to your family that no-one can get in.’ That’s because they’ve come through a war that is their own trauma and it takes time to take down the walls of war to allow others in and meet the world differently.”
Brad is clear in his acknowledgement that everyone has come through something and is going somewhere: “We all have a story and some are really confronting. Everyone has a different experience to make sense of. Where we come from impacts who we are and how we relate to others including how we relate intimately and how we relate every day including the guy at the coffee shop or those on the street.”
The message of this play is that we all have to talk and be honest. We have to be real. The simplest of notions such as these are often the most difficult to achieve. “Being honest and talking is the beginning of the road.” Brad outlines that this is a family trying to communicate. It’s partly about a man falling in love with a partner who is confused that he isn’t what she thinks he should be. “The difference between what we want to say and what we feel can be difficult – it is hard to say what we honestly feel. That’s the beautiful thing about musicals – you can go inside someone’s heart and soul and articulate their feelings without the reality of humanness and the things we allow to get in our way.
“Ultimately Becoming Bill is endeavouring to deal with real themes such as: How to grow up to be yourself and not be who you were told to be by those who may have sent messages less kindly than we’d like. We come across cruel people through life and that is realty. We are trying to be honest whilst having a laugh and being real. The music helps. As an example, Bill’s Brother James doesn’t get off the couch and we’re trying to figure out why. We do that gently!”
At the bottom line of the play is the fact that Bill needs to talk. He has something to say. “We all have a story to tell and if we don’t tell our story, we’re living a pretence,” says Brad. “Everyone has a story whether it is about domestic and family violence or other cruel abuses, emotional cruelty or parents fighting; we all move into our minds because its super passive and safe. It doesn’t matter who you are there is pain for everyone and we all need to face pain at some time in our lives.”
Becoming Bill paves the way for people to feel their own feelings. It is honest about our difficulty as human beings communicating our traumas and stating how we feel. “If we can get better at that then that is the crux of it. That’s why we’re all doing this,” said Brad.
“You are watching someone here saying ‘be yourself.’ That’s an overarching message of the play. It is OK to be afraid and not have the answer. Just be yourself.” Throughout the play Bill is writing a musical and basing it on his life and he’s overcome with fear and negative voices and trying to understand why he is messing everything up and can’t say and do the right thing. He can’t figure out what is expected of him.
“He asks his Mum if he is just like his Dad. The family is bonded together by a father figure not spoken about. She tells Bill that we have to talk about our stories and say how we feel even though it isn’t perfect. We have to be brave and let people see us for who we really are. That’s probably the most terrifying and necessary thing we can ever do. That’s the central theme of Becoming Bill.”
Reviews of Becoming Bill –
Bradley McCaw showed us a glimpse of why he is off to take on New York… – Stage Whispers
It is always very satisfying to know that there is talent out there writing new material and pushing the boundaries in musical theatre. – Musical Theatre Review UK
Sometimes, the experience of musical theatre can be so special as to leave you in want of a thesaurus to do its distinction justice… – Blue Curtain
For tickets visit the Brisbane Powerhouse website.