“Based on a true story, The Unlucky Cabin Boy tells of the young Patrick O’Brien of Limerick in 1835. In a desperate attempt to escape his life of poverty, he signed himself aboard the Francis Spaight ship as a cabin boy on the ship’s voyage to the New World. On the ship’s return from St. John, New Brunswick, the Francis Spaight encountered a terrible storm and capsized. With several crew members drowned, the remaining sailors were able to right the ship by cutting the mast leaving them utterly stranded in the vast ocean; their provisions, water, and possessions having been lost overboard. After two weeks of struggling to survive in severely grim conditions, the crew’s despair drove them to desperate measures and Capitan Gorman resolved that one crew member should die in order to prolong the lives of the others. Our hero, Patrick O’Brien drew lots, called himself on the death lot, and was killed and eaten by the crew. Two other crew members were respectively killed and eaten before the remaining sailors were rescued by passing ship.”
We had the chance to interview with Mike Finn, writer of the Unlucky Cabin Boy. You can see the results below, along with the dates for its nationwide tour.
How did you come across the story of Patrick O’Brien?
I came across the story about 30 years ago in an article written by Jim Kemmy in The Old Limerick Journal. I always thought it was a cracking story and often considered doing a stage version. When the Brad Pitt Light Orchestra asked me if I would collaborate with them on something for Limerick City Of Culture I was pleasantly surprised when they told me they had this story in mind too!
It is not the most obvious story to convert into a musical. What inspired you to make people sing about shipwrecks and cannibalism?
Well, doing it as a musical was actually the band’s idea – for obvious reasons, but I jumped at it.
When we hear the word ‘musical’ we often think of the frivolous, MGM musicals of the 50s, with Fred Astaire dancing around in a top hat and tails singing about, well, his top hat and tails. But musicals don’t have to be like that. Sweeney Todd is about a serial killer (and cannibalism) and Les Mis isn’t exactly a bundle of laughs.
Did you know any members of the Brad Pitt Light Orchestra before this production? How did it come about?
Yes I knew them and was a big fan for years. They came to me with the idea. They wanted to do some kind of dramatic/musical show as part of Limerick City Of Culture in 2014 so they asked me to work with them on it back in 2013 and we’ve been on this great journey since. And we haven’t eaten anyone yet!
It must be exciting to have the BPLO playing live with the production?
Yep. They’re a pretty ‘ass-kicking’ band – as, I believe the young people say. They always have a touch of the vaudevillian about their own shows anyway so they understand how theatre works and they, and the music, are at the heart of this show.
What will be the musical arrangement on stage?
The five member of the BPLO will be onstage all the time, singing, playing multiple instruments and acting. They really are a talented bunch! I’ve very envious.
How many actors and musicians are involved in this production?
Nine people in total, between the band and the actors but all the band act as well and the cast play multiple characters so it looks like a much bigger cast!
Do you suffering opening night nerves?
I don’t really get nervous. Especially when you have a great director, cast and crew. With the right people and the hard work done, what can possibly go wrong? Don’t answer that!
Gúna Nua Theatre & Verdant Productions resents – THE UNLUCKY CABIN BOY
Written by Mike Finn
Music & Lyrics by David Blake
Music performed by The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra
Directed by Paul Meade
Produced by Verdant Productions
Week 2: Black Box, Galway: Tuesday 10th November – €18/15
Civic Tallaght, Dublin: Friday 13th & Saturday 14th November – €20/16
Week 3: Theatre Royal, Waterford: Monday 16th November – €18/16
Watergate, Kilkenny: Tuesday 17th & Wednesday 18th November – €18/15
Draíocht, Blanchardstown Dublin: Sat 21st November – €18/14
Week 4: Siamsa Tire, Tralee: Weds 25th November – €20/17
Pavilion Theatre, Dún Laoghaire, Dublin: Fri 27th Sat 28th November – €20/16