Carrie starts out normally enough. A timid young girl has an embarrassing introduction to puberty, for which her classmates mock her mercilessly. Despite the best efforts of her teachers, the girl continues to feel isolated and alone, with no thanks to her extremely overbearing mother, her ruthlessly mean bullies, and, you know, your average case of teenage telekinesis. Add in some horrible scheming, a beautiful makeover and then an abominable prom prank involving pig’s blood aaaaand… CARRIE CARNAGE!

Since Steven King’s masterpiece Carrie was released in 1974, his troubled anti-heroine has pervaded our prom-nightmares for decades, taking form in two films, an off-Broadway play and now a musical coming to Brisbane in 2016. Directing Carrie The Musical’s first run in Queensland is Zoe Tuffin, a WAPA-trained director who believes Carrie’s timelessness comes its humanity, not its superhumanity.

“I think we all felt like an outsider, an outcast, particularly when we’re teenagers, that’s almost like a daily occurrence,” Zoe says. “It’s such a familiar high school scenario so that when you add the supernatural to it, it just makes it so much more fascinating.”

When it comes to taking Carrie to the stage, we used to think that somehow singing, dancing and jazz hands would be the last things we’d associate with a troubled young girl trying to make sense of puberty and telekinesis. Now, there’s a sentence you don’t hear every day.

“It’s such a difference for the genre, but it really is interesting to realise how to manage to use the music but try and keep it as close to the book as possible,” Zoe says.

One way in which the production tackles this is using different musical styles to reflect each character. “Carrie’s mother Margaret, who’s this grand character that’s very, very religious, has these almost biblical songs that are operatic in quality,” she said. “And then Chris the popular girl has these amazing pop-rock numbers that just get you wanting to dance.”

Her first time directing a musical theatre production, Zoe said reconciling such a genre with supernatural drama has been an exciting and fulfilling experience. “I think that we often get used to the fun, light storytelling,” she says.

“But showing that these really contemporary themes like domestic violence can be told through the genre of musical theatre is really cool, and I think that’s why the Brisbane theatre community is so excited about this as well.”

Sissy Spacek Carrie Movie

Sissy Spacek in the original Stephen King movie. Image: Carrie 1974

With performers from the Australian Dance Performance Institute, Harvest Rain Theatre Company as well as from the graduating class of The Conservatorium, the show is packed with some of Brisbane’s best talent, ready to shine in its premiere production. “It’s really lovely to be working with such a generous bunch of performers who are all so keen,” Zoe says. “There’s something really special about working with people that have been training at the Con for three years together because there’s just this incredible chemistry between them.”

One such Conservatorium alumni is Carrie herself, 20-year-old Sophie Perkins. Although her musical chops were more than enough to earn the role, Zoe said it was her pure and unassuming approach that really sealed the deal. “She wasn’t going into it going, ‘Oh my God, am I going to be Sissy Spacek?’” she says. “She approached it as a totally clean slate, which was perfect because it was that innocence and that ability to be vulnerable that just made me go, ‘yeah, you are a Carrie.’”

Although Sophie has had a strong support base from her fellow cast and crew, Zoe admitted diving into the role of tortured Carrie White was no mean feat. “Rehearsing scenes like the famous bathroom scene where she’s being bullied by this big group of girls, and having to run that over and over again is definitely a challenge, for sure, but one that Sophie’s really stepped up to,” she says.

A challenge that seems to be worth it, as the production’s preview showing has already been fully booked out.

“We hope the audience gets a little bit spooked,” Zoe says. “The Visy Theatre is a really intimate space, so it’s going to be, I hope, a little bit confronting for the audience to see this really intense story told right in front of them.”

Cool, Zoe, THANKS FOR THE NIGHTMARES. However, the director maintains that Carrie The Musical is far from a cheap, gore-dependent scare. “We never go for shock value, that’s not what this is, it’s drama,” Zoe says. “What we’re really interested in doing is keeping to the best bits of Stephen King’s story, which is the thriller element for sure, the supernatural, but also the fact that it’s a really kind of gritty story.”

But before any of us can stand up and wave our walking sticks screaming, “We paid for blooood!” Zoe’s got us sorted, with some clever light and design tricks to portray Carrie’s telekinetic terrorising and of course, the pig’s blood Prom Queen disaster. “We want to make sure the audience gets the payoff,” she says.

“That’s such a classic moment with the pig’s blood that the audience is going to be gunning for, so we’re just making sure that we’re satisfying that visceral kind of experience.”

Musical talent? Check. Raw human drama? Check. Bloodlust? Check. Now that’s what we call a night at the theatre.

Carrie The Musical
VISY Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse
January 20-30, 2016
Weds-Fri 7pm, Sat 2pm, 7pm

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