INTERVIEW: The Rabbits (Kate Miller-Heidke)

Published in The Music (WA) and on, Feb 2015

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Performing in a New York theatre with protesters arrested mid-show and smoke-filled European venues, Kate Miller-Heidke brings a wealth of experience to Perth Festival for the world premiere of The Rabbits. Daniel Cribb gets all the details.

“I haven’t really been home in about six months or something, so I’m kind of dazzled by the Melbourne sunlight,” a jet-lagged yet spritely Kate Miller-Heidke begins.

She’s travelled the world since the release of her latest record, O Vertigo!, earlier in 2014, and seen more than most would in several years. Miller-Heidke’s first destination on her mission to dominate the globe was New York City, where she performed in The Metropolitan Opera’s The Death Of Klinghoffer. An international operatic theatre experience isn’t, of course, anything new for the Brisbane singer, but the controversy surrounding it was.

“[On] opening night, there was a little bit of fear, because there was NYPD swarming around and the whole building was quartered off because of the protesters outside and people were coming in to disrupt the show. We had people come into the theatre with smoke bombs and people getting arrested during performances. It was very electric.”

The excitement of the theatre continues, when Miller-Heidke ventures to Perth for the world premiere of The Rabbits – only this time she’s been more involved with the production side of things, composing the music as well as singing live onstage. “If it gets terrible reviews I’ll take it a lot more personally,” she laughs. The Rabbits is a book written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan. The tale begins somewhat optimistically, led in by curiosity and friendliness, but quickly turns dark. “Shaun Tan is an incredible illustrator who actually just won an Oscar for short film The Lost Thing, and The Rabbits is this gorgeous, powerful allegory about colonialism in Australia; about what happened when the first white people landed on shore in this country, and how the Indigenous people might have felt about that and their encounters.

“It’s a book for kids, but it’s pretty disturbing, serious subject matter, so the show is pitched at families, as well as kids, and I think there’s a lot adults will get from it as well. That’s about all I can say.”

While theatre isn’t Miller-Heidke’s primary focus, her operatic singing voice and quirky onstage vibe fit the environment perfectly. “[Theatre] is not a life that I’d choose for myself full-time, but getting to dip one toe in it every now and then – especially if it’s a challenging and interesting project – is something I feel very lucky about. There’s something about a show coming together and how impermanent it is, you know. You put all this work in and then a few weeks later, it’s gone forever, and there’s something I really love about that.”

WHAT: The Rabbits

WHEN & WHERE: 12-16 Feb, Perth Festival, Heath Ledger Theatre