How the Marriage Equality referendum inspired this new queer Irish musical about a goldfish

GCN sat down with Gold in the Water co-creator Shane O'Reilly to learn more about the inspiration behind this quirky queer musical.

Portrait co-creator of queer musical Gold in the Water, Shane O'Reilly.
Image: Ros Kavanagh

Coming to Irish stages this spring, Gold in the Water is a hilarious and quirky new queer musical celebrating the power of family, friends and… fish. Suitable for audiences both young and old, it follows the story of a married couple, Bart and Harvey, who have their happy lives upturned when they unexpectedly become pet owners.

Although the premise is unique and somewhat absurd, it was in fact inspired by the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015 and a very serious debate that arose during that period. “There was a huge amount of conversation around gay people and queer people as parents,” co-creator Shane O’Reilly explained.

“I, as a gay man, found that very provocative because it started to make me question, well, what’s going to happen if all of this legislation goes through and this conversation moves forward? How do I feel about parenting, or how do I feel about really taking care of something else?”

Wanting to keep the production comical, O’Reilly decided to use a goldfish as a device to explore this theme rather than an actual baby. 

“They’re animated enough that they are alive, and you’ve to take care of them, but they don’t tell you if they’re happy or sad by reading them. So they’re always going to be projected onto,” he said.

It was also a priority for him and his partner, Paul Curley, to keep the musical fun and accessible to a family audience. It is aimed at people aged 8 and above, with O’Reilly revealing the importance of creating queer media for young people.

“I felt immediately that if we’re going to make something that’s looking at care and an adult-child relationship… then those are the two key stakeholders of our show, and they both have to have access to the conversation.”

The Gold in the Water team engaged with The Ark and its Children’s Council – a group of young people who review shows – to ensure that the queer musical appropriately engaged this group. 

“I was always blown away by how much further ahead they were in terms of no bias, no sense of hang up… The younger audience that we should show sections of the work to just took all of the queer stuff for granted, and actually, what they were more interested in was the human relationships.”

Increased queer representation on stage in general is something that O’Reilly strives for, saying that it is essential for “a multitude of reasons”.

“For the first 10 years of my career, I very rarely, if ever, encountered any kind of a queer strand or narrative within the work. It was always further exploration of heteronormative situations,” he remembered.

“I always felt like I wasn’t emotionally connecting to an awful lot of it, and so, I want to make work that presents alternative relationship models, but also the conundrums and the drama that comes from that.”

O’Reilly continued by stating the importance of presenting stories that “represent the people that are going to the theatre,” and he passionately feels that “we should be able to see our society reflected back to us” in the arts. This does not only refer to LGBTQ+ people, but also people of colour, disabled people and countless other underrepresented minorities.

Although this is a lighthearted and joyful production, audiences can also pick up on the aforementioned deeper themes and significant characteristics throughout. 

“The show is a comedy, an out-and-out comedy, it’s bonkers, but it has this big heart in the middle of it that is about something very real. And the goldfish allows us all to be bananas, to play, for all of the characters to be flawed, to make mistakes,” O’Reilly noted.

After being in the works for over seven years, the creator is understandably “really excited” to finally present the queer musical. It first arrives at Mermaid Arts Centre in Wicklow on February 25, where it will show until March 5, before moving on to Project Arts Centre in Dublin from March 10 to 26.

For a chance to win tickets to the Gala Dublin Opening of Gold in the Water on March 12, plus either brunch or dinner at Roberta’s in Temple Bar, enter the GCN competition here.

© 2023 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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