From its inception more than two decades ago, to its recent completion and upcoming stage debut, 18 Eden Avenue puts the talent of born and bred Southlanders in the spotlight; a proper musical to its core, it’s an engaging story about generational relationships between three women in one family.
Although the musical’s creators, Roger Gimblett and Sally Bodkin-Allen, were both born and raised in Invercargill, they didn’t meet until they were at university in Dunedin. “Roger was RA on my floor at St Margaret’s – he was a little older than me.” Dr Bodkin-Allen said. “He’d discovered I wanted to write musicals and he had already written some.” And it was that simple - their common interest sealed their future of collaborating together.
The creative pair developed 18 Eden Avenue’s storyline themselves; “Roger liked a musical called 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and had always wanted to write a show that had an address as the name.” It was the starting point; from early on, they had a concept of a big old house, once grand but now falling into disrepair, which was inhabited by three generations of women. “We wanted to create some strong female characters and explore the relationships between these three women: the mother, the daughter and the grandmother,” Dr Bodkin-Allen said.
Their initial input saw two-and-a-half songs and two thirds of the script written, then life got in the way. “We just never finished it,” Dr Bodkin-Allen said. Mr Gimblett, who was based in Sydney at the time, headed off to the UK for more work opportunities while Dr Bodkin-Allen did a PhD and established a teaching career in music at Southern Institute of Technology.
It was in 2019, after another of their collaborations, What Santa Does Other Days of the Year, had played in Sydney, they were discussing starting another musical and a light bulb moment occurred: “Why don’t we finish the one we started twenty-five years ago? ...it was literally pulled out of the cupboard and dusted off”, said Dr Bodkin-Allen.
She described how over the years technology had transformed and simplified the collaboration process between herself and the overseas-based Mr Gimblett. “When we started writing it, Roger would send me faxes of lyrics to the music department office; I’d record them on cassette tape and post them to him in Sydney, and of course, now it’s all instant... it’s certainly made it much easier.”
Roger Gimblett said it was an amazing feeling to have a show they had started quarter of a century earlier about to open.
“In many ways the musical we have written today is probably not the one that it would have been had we finished it all those years ago. As it is now, it’s a nice mix of youthful enthusiasm balanced against quite a few years of experience!”
He said he had huge respect for Invercargill Repertory who had programmed not one, but two world premieres this year, and his main hope was that people would find the show heart-warming and uplifting.
“With so many depressing things in the world hopefully this will let people escape and be entertained and amused by a quirky story and our wonderfully talented cast singing Sally’s beautiful music. I keep finding myself humming the songs on the bus which I think is probably an encouraging sign!”
Mr Gimblett hoped to be in Invercargill for the opening.
“It means a lot opening the show in Invercargill where my parents met in an Operatic show and my earliest memory is trailing around after my father backstage at the Civic being astounded by the stage technology. I was hooked from a very young age!’’
Fellow Southlander Jason Fraser is the show’s Director. Dr Bodkin-Allen approached him to take the role after he had adapted the series script for Black Adder, The Golden Age, into a stage play and directed it. “Jason has been outstanding. He’s believed in it from the start - it wouldn’t be being performed without him. I’m very grateful for his belief,” said Dr Bodkin-Allen.
This will be Mr Fraser’s first time directing a musical, however, he has been involved in musicals in Southland for “donkey’s years”. Since the age of sixteen, he’s participated as an actor, also clocking up experience behind the scenes in lighting. He pursued his long-held interest in directing by starting as an assistant director for Shakespeare in the Park, The Tutor and Le Sud. From there, he said it has been a natural progression into taking on the director’s role.
“It’s an honour to be asked to be a part of it. I’m all about developing and enhancing local talent and I feel really passionate about it because it’s an all-Southland production. I’m so impressed with the product, this is definitely something that Southlanders are going to be proud of.”
Both Mr Fraser and Dr Bodkin-Allen commented on how the new show’s evolution had been a collaborative process with the local community also. It’s been workshopped and workshopped and workshopped some more - involving local singers, actors and test audiences - “Lots of trying things out and seeing if they worked, and getting feedback from the performers and the audience. It’s being that critical eye on your own work,” Dr Bodkin-Allen said.
The world premiere of 18 Eden Avenue will take place at 7:30pm on 31st August at Repertory House, Esk Street, Invercargill, for a strictly limited season until 3rd September, 2022. Tickets are available through Invercargill Repertory Society’s website: https://www.invercargillrepertory.co.nz/eden-avenue-2022/