A Quick Chat With Neil Gooding

Director and producer Neil Gooding has a long history of championing musical theatre in Australia, working on (and writing) new musicals, and recently championing a growing, inclusive culture of musical theatre in Western Sydney with Packemin Productions, producing numerous shows and cabarets. Next month, he’ll be directing the Australian premiere of Dogfight at Sydney’s Hayes Theatre. We sent him some questions about Dogfight, musicals, and all sorts.

Introduce yourself:

Hi. I’m Neil Gooding, the producer and director of DOGFIGHT which is playing throughout May at Hayes Theatre Co.

Neil Gooding
Neil Gooding


You seem to be working constantly – do you get enough sleep?! 

Not really, but with an understanding wife and family, and hopefully good time management, we seem to make it all work….just!  I love doing this, so saying no is always still painful for me, but I am getting better at it.

How would you spend the perfect day off? 

A beach, my family, swimming in the ocean with my girls.  And….sleep is always good!

Who are the directors working now that excite you? 

There are a long line of both Australian and International directors whose work I admire, and who have shaped my theatre tastes. However, right at the moment, the two directors who excite me the most are Alex Timbers (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Rocky, Peter And The Starcatcher) and John Tiffany (Once, Macbeth On Broadway)

What’s your all-time favourite theatre experience as an audience member? 

There are so many, it is very hard to separate. However, seeing the closing night of Rent on Broadway after its twelve year run was pretty amazing. It was just the right show, in the right city on the right night. And it was emotional magic that probably can only ever happen on that night.

How about as a director?

When I first saw Billy Elliot in London, I remember just sitting in the theatre at the end of the show wishing that my name was listed as the director. It does not happen much, but sections of that show (like the sequence that blends the ballet girls and the policeman) for me were directorial perfection.

Whose advice do you always take?

I have several people who are my theatrical touch-stones. Essentially every new project is a risk and a leap into the unknown. So, it is important to me to have a group of people that I trust that will hit me with the truth and their honest views on projects. If I choose to ignore them, at least I do it with my eyes open.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned during your career?

Be somebody that people want to work with. At the end of the day, it is the people you collaborate with that are the over-riding memories of productions. So, enjoy the amazing people that become your theatrical family on each production. It all moves on way too quickly.

If you could direct any musical at all, what would it be? Do you have a dream cast for it in mind?

I am not really sure to be honest. I think working on new shows excites me most, and there is one particular project that I am currently acquiring the rights to, which I would love to direct and usher on to the stage. I have some totally unrealistic dream castings in mind (as always) but at this stage it is all a secret….

What’s the most exciting thing about musical theatre in Australia? 

It genuinely feels like we are currently developing our version of Off-Broadway here, which is exciting. We also currently have a crop of young writers who are of international quality, and are writing potentially brilliant global musicals. Now, we just need to figure out how to support them to develop their talent and their shows.

What’s the most challenging thing about it? 

It is an old answer, but as always, lack of funds, resources and time to allow new musicals the time and space to develop, grow and be re-written before they are prematurely presented. Hopefully there are small steps now happening towards rectifying this situation.

What’s your best party trick?

I don’t know that I really have one. Usually I am providing the alcohol, so I guess that’s a pretty good trick? People seem to like it.

What are you obsessed with at the moment? Something you’re watching or listening to, or someone whose work you can’t get enough of? 

I am just getting into House Of Cards. I don’t get to see much television, but that is pretty amazing. And of course Game Of Thrones is about to wipe out all of my television viewing time over the next few months.

You can invite five people to a dinner party. Who would they be? 

This is going to be very confusing, because they would be from such different worlds. Probably Cameron Mackintosh, Harry Kewell, John Cleese, Sam Mendes and Warren Buffet. But, that sounds like it would either be a complete disaster, or the best night EVER!

Let’s talk about Dogfight. When and how did you first discover the show? 

Tyran Parke called me a few days after it had previewed in New York telling me that some friends of his had seen it in New York, and believed it was the best new musical they had seen. So, I started following it very closely from there, fell in love with it, and set about acquiring the rights.

What captured your interest most about the show? The music, the story, a particular moment?

I had heard the song “Pretty Funny” without even really knowing that it was from Dogfight. There is a vibrance in the music which is new, and feels like you are listening to the future of musical theatre. There are so many great moments in the show, but for me, the end of Act 1 and the end of Act 2 always move me enormously.

The musical is based on a film from 1991, starring River Phoenix and Lilli Taylor. What do you think makes the story still so relevant in 2015?

The heart of the story focuses on how two very different people can randomly meet each other, and then affect each other’s lives in completely unexpected ways. That is universal. It does not matter whether it is 1963 when Dogfight is set, or 2015.  Connections between human beings will always be the central focus of most good theatre.

What has been your favourite rehearsal/preparation moment for the show so far? 

This morning we heard the full cast do a read-through and sing of the show. There has already been some great moments during the auditions and rehearsals, but for me that has topped them all. I think we could all feel just how great this show is, and how outstanding this cast is. It is so genuinely exciting!

If you could describe Dogfight in only three words, what would they be?

Fresh, exciting, moving

Now the plug: when and where can we see Dogfight? 

At Hayes Theatre Co right through May. 32 performances only – don’t miss out!  You will not see a more exciting cast on stage this year.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and was the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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