Whilst at the Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth earlier this month, eagerly awaiting that evening’s performance of Little Shop of Horrors, I got to sit down and have a chat with the co-producer of the show, Damien Tracey, about his career (after ten minutes of Harry Potter talk, of course!). Damien is a producer, actor and scriptwriter from Ireland. In our conversation we discussed his early theatre days, his production influences and The X Factor.
So how did you start out in theatre?
I did my first paid gig when I was 12, and then kind of went in and out of it, then went to drama school. I’d go home for Christmas and my vocal teacher would be like ‘You went home, didn’t you? You went HOME, didn’t you?! Because you sound like a gypsy again!” I’m a playwright as well so wrote a play called Warde Street which was on in London, and we had lots of interest but I felt better as a producer. You know when it’s just like everything lines up, and why does this feel so right? I kind of fought it for a while, did a couple of acting gigs and that type of stuff. Finally last year I went d’you know what, producing is my passion.
What were your influences to start producing?
It was purely from the first show I produced in Ireland, and it was a fundraiser for fees for drama school, and we managed to get the rights to a Roddy Doyle play, Brown Bread. He’s written two plays apart from The Commitments but you put his name on a poster in Ireland and people will turn up. It went so well that I managed to pay off my entire first year of drama school fees on the profits. And then I focused on acting – when I was producing Warde Street my gut just went ‘this is it’. I suppose as a kid for me I always used to play theatre; it was about putting on the show rather than being in the show. I just had no concept of what a producer did and now it’s superb. I feel more creative being live as a producer than I ever have as an actor.
There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing a cast bring a script together or even when you’re producing a show like Little Shop (of Horrors), you go to discussions and meetings, see a cast do a run-through and to see everything come together just never stops being intoxicating.
I have to admit, all of the promotional material I’ve seen until now was obviously of Rhydian and I only know him from X Factor so I was skeptical, but from here (the dress rehearsal was happening in the theatre), he sounds incredible.
Let me tell you this, any preconceptions you’ve ever had about Rhydian as a performer will be blown out of the water. I think it’s brilliant casting for The Dentist but he plays other roles throughout the show as well; you will be blown away. His voice is incredible but I don’t think people realise what an accomplished, talented actor he actually is. He’s just brilliant and he is one of the biggest joys to work with. He is an utter joy as a person. I knew he would be brilliant as The Dentist because it’s just that voice, he could sing the phonebook and it would sound incredible, but it’s just the acting and the characterisation he’s brought to it that has exceeded my expectations of what he could do overall. I guarantee you the conversation from everybody will be “I had no idea!” He is utterly brilliant.
What challenges have you faced doing this? Because obviously it’s quite a small cast and Audrey II is a puppet – I was reading on how the cost effectiveness of a remake of the film would mean there wouldn’t be a puppet, it would just be better to do CGI because otherwise it wouldn’t look as good as it could. But what challenges have you had here?
I think because it’s such a well known and revered piece, especially for people who know the theatre, and for me as a youngster it was the first musical I saw that made me go “this is really interesting”. It’s just making sure we do it justice. What’s beautiful is that from the get go, our creative team didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, we just wanted to do a really good production. It’s been true right back to the original movie, true to the movie we all know and love and true to the, when you strip it all away, the book for the show and songs, it’s just brilliant storytelling. It’s one of the first things that Alan Menken wrote. When I saw one of the first run-throughs in rehearsals I was blown away and moved because when you strip it back and realise what a brilliant piece of storytelling it is… the key for us was telling the story, making it truthful, to a certain extent, but also just letting the story come out.
It is such a good story though! I remember falling asleep on the sofa when I was allowed to stay up late to watch a film, and woke up at 2 or 3am to the original film, near the end when everything climaxes and I just sat there like “what have I just watched?!”
Exactly, you do! Without giving away any endings, this stage production is slightly different and shocking if you’ve only seen the movie, but it’s so brilliant and the ending is what I love about it because you’re getting a really feel-good night out without the Disney effect. What’s beautiful is ‘Mean Green Mother’ was only written for the movie and it’s never officially been in the show, and we have somehow, I still don’t know how, got it in as our finale. It’s one of the only times it’s officially been put in, even to find out who had the controlling rights to it was difficult.
Particularly Audrey and Seymour, I’ve never seen them played like this before – I’ve seen it god knows how many times in rehearsals and I always end up heartbroken at the end of the show.
Little Shop of Horrors played at the Pavilion Theatre in Bournemouth this August. Read my review of the show here.