The Players Theatre Presents “Pacific Highway”

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A not to be missed comedy of songs, skits and sketches on truckers, grey nomads, backpackers, family holidays, roadside stops, service centres, construction teams, lollypop men and so much more. We chat with Peter Tregilgas and Cameron Marshall, who have both written and directed the revue.

Peter Tregilgas

Executive Officer, Regional Development Australia Mid North Coast

Average hours spent on the highway per week? Put it like this – the highway IS my office.

How long have you been involved in musical theatre?

This is embarrassing already – my mother used to take me to a Light Opera group in Adelaide as a young boy and she was an amateur thespian, so I grew up enjoying theatre. I did drama (and geography) at Flinders Uni in the late ‘70s, where I cut my teeth in the arts, but it was in the early ‘80s as the Director of the Adelaide Festival Fringe when I really engaged in the cutting edge of the arts.

It was the formative years; the Fringe was an education in theatre and the bureaucracy, as we took on the ‘official’ festival. It gave me a strong appreciation for irreverence and the capacity to challenge the status quo – whoa … look at the Fringe these days.

The show is written and directed by yourself and Cameron Marshall. Tell us how it all came about?

Let this be a warning – don’t drink at lunch time. Soon after I arrived on the Mid North Coast, I was smooching the ABC for some media profile, when Cameron asked me to play alongside him with the local Port Macquarie Players Theatre show, Kiss me Kate. Within a nanosecond, I had a part in a musical.

I may have had a professional role in arts and culture, but I hadn’t been on stage since uni – that was thirty years earlier. As for the Pacific Highway show … the Players Committee were seeking submissions for their 2012 program, and over another lunch we came up with this idea for a show that we can all relate to – the Pacific Highway … the highway story has been like a soap opera recently, hasn’t it?

Both of you have lived and worked in the local region for many years. How have your individual jobs helped you with the background research for the show?

Coming from interstate, it didn’t take me long to form the view that the Mid North Coast character is determined by our relationship with our transport artery. Regional Development is about connecting our people, coast and valleys of the region. The highway is a critical piece of infrastructure for both commercial and leisure transport. The highway brings tourism, employment and product to and from our region.

It is a vital connector, and in my experience and in consultations, the most significant improvement for the region that will benefit the whole of the community is the completion of the Pacific Highway. For Cameron, the ABC Mid North Coast reports the political scraps, personal tragedies and weather incidents – this is the highway.

What is the idea behind such a production?

Players Theatre is celebrating its 50th year in 2012, and we decided that it was time to demonstrate that two blokes and a few local thespians could knock up a great night’s entertainment in the middle of winter and bring fame and public recognition to the theatre as creative risk takers. We have assembled an ensemble cast of talented individuals of all ages, and we are proud of their output.

We can’t take all the glory. Our Musical Director Maty Eichorn has had to interpret our themes with a stage band, and Choreographer Jess Conneely brings the stage to life with her routines.

We all take a risk on the highway every time we travel – so armed with a million stories on the highway – and who doesn’t have one, we have set about making Highway ‘1’ famous for something other than bad news. It is the rich vein of issues and stories that we tapped to formulate a show using satire and comedy in the revue format. Short, sharp and snappy skits and routine, it’s 110 kilometres per hour in two acts.

Cameron Marshall

Manager of ABC Radio Mid North Coast based in Port Macquarie and Breakfast Presenter Monday to Friday, 6am to 7.45am on 95.5FM

Average hours spent on the highway per week?

Because our broadcast footprint covers the Mid North Coast from Bulahdelah to Grafton, on any given day I can be travelling along the Pacific Highway covering events and guest speaking. Because I am based in Port Macquarie, it’s usually a simple decision … do I head north or south today? In fact, it was on one of those numerous trips up and down the highway that the acorn of an idea emerged that we could actually make a theatre show about a piece of road.

You have appeared in a few productions at the Players Theatre. Tell us a little about your acting career so far …

After leaving school, I enrolled in an acting diploma at the Ensemble Theatre in Sydney and performed in a few amateur productions. Having the perfect face for radio, my theatrical life then went on hold, as I pursued a radio career which has taken me from Burnie to Broken Hill and finally the Mid North Coast, where I have been based the last ten years.

I decided to get back into theatre with the Kempsey Singers, playing a wayward undertaker and then slipped on the Police Sergeant’s outfit for a production of Pirates of Penzance.

I joined Players Theatre five years ago, playing a homicidal manic in Arsenic and Old Lace and have since performed in some wonderful shows, like The Cemetery Club, Kiss Me Kate and most recently, the Sound Of Music. I have also performed in film and have appeared as an extra in the locally made production Dungoona, alongside Logie Award winning actress Kat Stewart.

The show is meant to be funny … however, there is a serious side to the story, being that the Pacific Highway is such a topical point of politics right now. How have you juggled that in the story line?

Every day as part of my work with ABC Radio, I am covering news stories or hearing about the Pacific Highway and the impact it is having on all our lives. So while our politicians are battling out on who pays and when, Peter and I have all the drama and intrigue, triumph and tragedy that Shakespeare would probably jump at in terms of writing a show.

We have tried to put ourselves behind the wheel of our audience (pun intended). We all want a safer, dual carriageway Pacific Highway – and we want it now! Hopefully, we have achieved a balancing act of finding humour in all those challenging situations that occur on any road trip, but also acknowledging the tragic fact that many people are injured or killed in road accidents. How this will play out – I urge everyone who has ever driven on the highway to come along and see the show, and you’ll be able to relate to the characters and the situations which we all encounter.

Tell us about some of the characters in the show; they have quite creative names, I hear.

Jewell Lane is our heroine, who along with the rest of the Lane family, bypass most of the controversy to bring us some light hearted moments during the show. The beautiful fashion designer Gravelle Rhodes and reporter Lorrie Driver provide us with an unusual look at highway fashion. Winnie Bago is another character who finds herself and Ken Worth in a spot of difficulty at a local caravan park, while Professor Sage has some advice for those guilty of road rage. The Quiz will feature Rego O and his band the Green Slips, who will power through many a memorable road song.

Who else is starring in the show?

We are blessed with a talented cast of 14 performers, many of whom will be familiar to local audiences at Players productions. It’s an ensemble project, so they are all making a contribution to the on stage result. Peter and I also make a few appearances, just to keep the cast on their toes.

Supporting the actors are our Choreographer Jess Conneely, Stage Manager Burt Parlievet, Musical Director Maty Eichorn, and a whole range of volunteers assisting with set building, costume design and technical production. Once the show hits the stage, we are also assisted by front of house, our driver reviver centre volunteers and hair and makeup people.

The show is only on for a few weeks. Who should get along and see it?

Anyone who has ever travelled on the Pacific Highway will be able to relate and enjoy this production.

We have altered the lyrics of several well known songs, written a couple of new ones, made fun of politicians, scratched together a truck load of gags – it will be one of the great road shows. There’s music, singing, dance and even ballet, so there is something for everyone and just when you think you know it all – we’ll chuck in a quiz.

We are encouraging car pooling groups (only $19 pp for groups of 10 or more). We have made provision for rest stops and a driver reviver station but be careful during the interval – you never know where the speed traps are. You could be picked up and asked a few questions in the quiz.

“If you don’t come to this show – the highway will never be built!” … unknown source.

Thanks Peter and Cameron.

This story was published in issue 79 Greater Port Macquarie Focus

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