Drama Semester One: A Retrospective on ‘A Murder Mystery Musical’ 

Katie O’Shaughnessy

Last semester’s ‘A Murder Mystery Musical’ was a smash hit! The musical, written by Jack Shannon-Nolan and Shane O’Loughlin, was incredibly well received by the large numbers who attended. As DCU Drama moves on to audition new casts for four brand new productions, I bring you an interview with the director of A Murder Mystery Musical, Abbie Nolan.

What was the process of directing like alongside a musical director?

I actually think it’s very different. Last year, I directed Little Women (DCU Drama’s 2022 Play), which was only a three-person production team (Herself, producer Cormac Fitzpatrick and stage manager Lauren Joyce). That was great. I did everything creatively. Which – was a lot, but I loved it.

Working alongside a musical director (Caragh Davis) is phenomenal. I can’t musical direct to save my life. It brings another perspective into the scene. I take Caragh’s opinion very highly with everything. She is a very good judge of character. She was able to know if someone was struggling and pick it out.

It’s a lot different with a musical director because you have to split your time. You don’t have as much time to rehearse, and the same goes for working with a choreographer. You have to split it [rehearsal time] three ways. It’s really good to share the load with other people. Not everything falls back on you. You have other people there to support you. We often helped each other a lot.

It’s a large cast, plenty of main characters, alongside a big chorus. What was that like to manage?

Managing so many people comes down to having so many on your production team. There were only three or four rehearsals before tech that I had everyone in with me. I often did scenes with the leads whilst Caragh was with the chorus singing, and Alicia (Cunningham, the show’s choreographer) would have half of the chorus dancing. It worked well like that.

As director, you do have authority over everyone. I don’t like to think of it like that because they’re all my friends. But, setting that [authority] in the beginning, where people are able to respect you, and they care about what you’re saying and they take on your criticism lightly, works really well with a larger cast. It brings the idea that “Yes, we are here to have so much fun, but we’re also here to work as well”. It becomes really easy to manage like that. I like to say to myself that I am quite good at doing that… It’s something that you have to learn, and it’s not easy to learn. But once you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

When I interviewed Amy (McLoughlin, director of The Snapper), it was opening night. For you, it’s closing night. How have you been? How have you been feeling?

Tonight, I’m very relaxed. Whatever happens, happens. What I said to the cast already, and I will say it again, is: “Tonight, I don’t care what happens; I just want ye to have the most fun you can and put your all into it”. That is what they have worked so hard for the last six or seven weeks. If it goes to sh*t, it goes to sh*t. I don’t think it will. It’s gone so well the last two nights. It’s going to be amazing. They just need to leave whatever they can out on the stage.

Opening night, I was a total wreck. I was so anxious; I was so nervous. I think it was because I felt like I didn’t have enough time with them as I could have had. But it worked out in the end. It was good. Nothing majorly bad happened. Obviously, bad things happen on opening night. It’s opening night. And stuff has to change after that. 

I felt very sorry for the cast. Monday night, we did our tech run – it was good, as far as runs go. It didn’t go as bad as I thought it would be. It didn’t go as good as I hoped it would be. I came in on Tuesday, and they were here from 4:15, and I changed so much of the show before 6:30. They were so good. They were so adaptable. I always said to them that you have to be able to change things if it needs to be changed at short notice. They are really good for changing quickly.

Obviously, in the first tech you’re seeing things you haven’t before.

There was stuff we thought would work when we were in a smaller rehearsal room but on the stage, it’s a bit different.

Between the opening and second night, or the second night to now (the closing night), has there been many changes?

There haven’t been major changes, only small directional things, spacing-wise. I have changed a lot of the lights. I’m a tech manager, so I have the freedom to do that myself without having to annoy someone. I had the freedom to do that, and it elevated the show a lot!

Thank you so much Abbie!

Chief News Editor, Katie O’Shaughnessy

Photos: Kate Byrne