Blue Interviews Part One: Callan Purcell

The Wiradjuri man and Hamilton star discusses love, loss and self-discovery as he takes the lead in Thomas Weatherall's Blue

feature (adelaide) | Read in About 5 minutes
34195 large
Callan Purcell in Blue: photo by Stephen Wilson Barker
Published 29 Feb 2024

Fresh off its hit premiere season at Belvoir St Theatre, Thomas Weatherall’s play Blue dives deep into the beauty, joy and pain of growing up. It's the first written by the Balnaves Fellow and Kamilaroi man, exploring the struggles of love and loss through protagonist Mark on his journey of self-discovery. After leaving home, Mark begins writing letters to his mother, also a writer, to maintain their connection; until he receives a letter with news that is too devastating to bear.

Wiradjuri man Callan Purcell takes the lead as Mark in the monologue which promises a “hearty laugh, a good cry and some good courage to call a loved one.”

Blue transcends just entertainment and cracks open questions and taboos in young people’s minds," Purcell says. "All too often we hear the same perspectives and narratives on stage… Mark’s voice brings light to the urgent and relentless mental health struggles that young people face. He doesn’t shy away from telling the truth. It means the world to be able to tell the truth.”

For Purcell, Blue will be the first one-person show he has performed in. But the Newcastle-born actor is more than ready to step into the role, previously held by Weatherall.

“There’s a freshness to this remount. It’s new terrain because the show has never been performed in a conventional proscenium theatre. It’s a newly built set, some minor new staging and the first time to have it performed by someone else other than Thomas. I’m eager to see what life it takes on beyond the Belvoir stage.

Photo by Stephen Wilson Barker

“I’ve never done a one-person show before, so with your body as your instrument, you have to be in peak physical condition. I’m just beginning to understand what my body needs in order to get through a run. The real test is when we hit previews and go through it eight or so times a week.

“I’m also still waiting for my scene partner – the audience. My character Mark is using direct address a lot of the time and so that alchemy of listening and exchange of energy won’t really come into play until we’re in previews. So there’s been a lot of imagining and speculating how it’ll go down but who knows? Oh, also sliding into the pool each night is going to be fun.”

Despite being a story told by one person on stage, Purcell says bringing the story to life was a true team effort. “It’s been a solid team of four and I’m the newbie. Our director Deb Brown has brought an integrity and sensitivity to the room while our associate Dom has been a wealth of knowledge inside the work. Steph, our stage manager, has welcomed me with open arms into the process and for that I’m so grateful.

“We met together downstairs at Belvoir last Monday and we were running the show by Friday. There has been a quiet confidence among us all preparing the show for Adelaide. I’ve left the rehearsal room each day feeling inspired.”

Without revealing too much, the best part of the show is seeing Mark’s growth as he finds his feet amid the chaos, says Purcell.

“There’s this sequence where we see Mark put everything he’s learned into practice. He stands on the precipice of joy and taking action at times, but when he dives in, it’s such a pay-off. It crescendos into this visual feast by David Bergman and it’s as if Mark’s world grows out of the stage onto the audience.”

Reflecting on his portrayal of Aaron Burr in the smash-hit musical Hamilton, Purcell notes how he took the stage in front of the show’s acclaimed creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, describing the experience as a dream come true.

“It’s a career-defining opportunity that took me around the world; meeting with cast members from the West End, Broadway and German productions. It is unreal to be on the show and step into a role that is now so iconic in the music theatre canon. I was pinching myself a lot of the time; checking if it wasn’t a dream.”

When it comes to Indigenous representation within the arts, Purcell explains that it needs to “be the norm, not a novelty.”

“That expectation expands to all heritages and experiences. We need rehearsal rooms to reflect our communities – not just individuals who look the same, live the same, think the same. That’s not theatre, that’s some stupid, secret club. Furthermore it’s to break down how these rooms are run so producers and directors aren’t thrusting people into spaces they don’t feel they belong.”

As for what’s next for the rising star, the future remains uncertain but whatever it brings will be good, he promises.

“I don’t plan things beyond breakfast most days. Though I know for certain, wherever in the world it is, whoever it’s with… it’s going to be good.”


Read our interview with Blue's writer Thomas Weatherall here

Blue, Scott Theatre, The University of Adelaide, until 16 March