“They’re the reason I’m doing it”: Terence O’Connell on his actors, true crime stories, and his latest production

5 years ago
Til Knowles

As part of the 2016 MidSumma programme, well renowned director Terence O’Connell has taken on Thrill Me: the Leopold and Loeb Story. Based on gruesome real life events, this musical explores the relationship and psyches of two privileged young men seeking to commit “the perfect crime”. Described as “arresting and a bit breathtaking” by the Sunday Telegraph, Thrill Me seems set to be a confronting and intelligent production. O’Connell took some time out of rehearsals to answer a few brief questions for Popculture-y.

Terrence McConnell

One of your previous works was about David Bowie (Life on Mars – the Words and Music of David Bowie). How are you feeling since Sunday? What does Bowie mean to you?

Well, of course I’m shocked and saddened but he went out in true Bowie style with Blackstar and also Lazarus, his new theatre piece in NYC. To me, he is pop’s greatest artist.

Thrill Me, like other works you’ve directed (particularly Minefields and Miniskirts), is based on real events. How is it like directing something with a non fiction source in comparison to a fictional one?

The two projects are quite different really. Minefields was literally true, although I did invent back stories for the characters to pull it all together as theatre. And the women were all alive and I knew they’d be coming to the show! Whereas Thrill Me, although based on real events, is more of a ‘riff’ on the story with some twists added by the writer.

True Crime is hugely popular at the moment, with specials like Netflix’s Making a Murderer and the phenomenon that is the podcast Serial. Why do you think audiences are so fascinated with these kinds of stories?

I don’t know, maybe it’s the chance to look in on the dark part of human nature and to sort of take a walk on the very wild side but at a distance…

What drew you personally to Thrill Me?

The fact that it’s a very modern, compact, muscular piece. It could have been a straight play, there are no applause points after the songs, it moves like the clappers.

What do you think the thematic heart of the production is?

Mmmm…I guess that evil can lurk behind beauty and privilege!

If you could adapt any ‘true story’ to stage, what would it be?

There are so many but I’m working on two at the moment: essentially one woman shows about actor and activist Melina Mercouri and cosmetics impresario Helena Rubinstein.

Vincent Hooper and Stephen Madsen

The two leads have worked together on Heathers: the Musical. What made Vincent Hooper (who plays Nathan Leopold) and Stephen Madsen (who plays Richard Loeb) stand out to you?

They are the reason I’m doing it, really. Fantastic young singing actors, they are going to be great.

You’ve worked in a wide range of different theatre spaces. Do you have a preferred type of venue? What’s it like directing at Chapel off Chapel?

I’ve worked everywhere from circus tents to State theatres, so I don’t have a preference, it’s all about the project. Chapel Off Chapel is terrific, it’s really well run, in a great part of town, the toilets are clean and it’s now air conditioned! I’ve done a lot of work there Dreamgirls, Carrie-The Musical, John & Jen, Mojo etc. I keep coming back there.

Thrill Me: the Leopold and Loeb Story is part of Melbourne’s MidSumma festival. What other productions are you interested in seeing?

Michael Griffiths-Cole (45 Downstairs), The Songs Of Laura Nyro (Ruby’s Music Room) and Elegy at Gasworks.


Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story is on at Chapel off Chapel from Wednesday the 20th until Sunday the 31st of January. Tickets are $35, or $30 concession, and are available from the MidSumma website.

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