Patrick Whitbread: ready to rumble (even in the rain)

by | Apr 18, 2024

 

When Patrick Whitbread took to the stage in the role of Riff in West Side Story on Sydney Harbour it not only marked his Opera Australia debut, but also his professional debut in a leading role.

Whitbread’s first ever role was playing Louis in The King and I in his hometown of Newcastle. Whitbread can’t even recall how he initially got involved in theatre – it was just the thing that he did. His after-school hobby. However, everything changed when he saw the professional production of The Lion King and his grandmother explained that these performers were doing this as their job.

“My mind was just blown! Something I was doing after school for fun, could actually be a job. That sounds ideal!”

Suddenly nine year old Patrick knew what he wanted to do when he grew up.

Reflecting back, Whitbread said his nine year old self wouldn’t be able to comprehend where he is now – performing a leading role in West Side Story on the biggest stage in Australia, with the Sydney Harbour as the backdrop!

“It’s truly a dream come true. I’ve loved West Side Story since I first saw it. It’s always been my favourite show, so to know that that is happening in my career, and to be playing one of the lead roles, one of my favourite roles in history, I don’t think nine year old me would comprehend! I think he’d be so happy!”

 

 

Patrick Whitbread’s first experience of West Side Story was a local high school production in Newcastle, starring Ali Calder and Declan Egan in the leading roles, and he has loved it ever since.

“It’s a juggernaut of a show.”

However, it’s not the first time Patrick Whitbread is playing Riff. It’s a role he’s reprising, after performing it ten years ago at WAAPA. Whitbread admits he doesn’t remember a lot about that experience, other than the immense pressure of wanting to get it right for his university assessment!

“This time, I’ve got ten years of professional experience. I’m ready to play. I don’t feel the pressure now, even though it’s vastly a more pressurised environment. It feels more fun,” commented Whitbread.

Patrick Whitbread’s understanding of his character has also changed in those ten years.

“I think the main difference is I probably played Riff more as a bad guy ten years ago. I think I probably didn’t quite understand the character as much. Being a bit older now, I just don’t see that is the case, I don’t think he is a bad guy,” explained Whitbread.

Whitbread said that he now has a greater understanding of human behaviour and can see that Riff is acting out of fear.

“I think Riff is an incredibly strong teenager who is really doing his best to help a group of boys who all have terrible home lives. I think he’s just doing his best to, kind of, nourish a group of also terrified boys, in the midst of their area being taken over by people who don’t quite understand what it means to them. So I think while trying to be this young father figure he’s also terrified of what it means if they lose this area, because he’s in charge. What are they all going to do? What is he going to do?”

Playing Riff in the Opera Australia production of West Side Story on Sydney Harbour also means playing on the largest stage in Australia – something he says is “wildly different” to any other show he’s performed in.

“It is so different! The width is about three times bigger than a normal professional stage! It’s a big presentation space, so you have to able to play big, which is really fun! I’m really having a ball with it, to be honest.”

West Side Story is not Patrick Whitbread’s first experience of Opera Australia productions on Sydney Harbour. He was in the audience for The Phantom of the Opera – on a “dry night”.

“I was truly wowed! I was wowed by the spectacle of seeing it outside and so huge … and the sunset and the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and these incredible performances. I was truly living in a dreamland for two and a half hours. It was wonderful.”

That experience has certainly helped Patrick Whitbread prepare for his performance in West Side Story on Sydney Harbour. He doesn’t even mind the unpredictable weather. He considers rain during a performance as an incredible melodramatic experience.

“I’m ready for the rumble in the rain!” The price you’d have to pay to get that level of melodrama in a theatre would be extortionate! West Side Story is a tragedy, it’s a drama, so rain at any point, our show works. It’s a melodrama for no extra price!”

Rain, hail or shine, Patrick Whitbread is relishing the moment.

“This is a huge opportunity. It’s the first time I’ve been cast as a lead in my career. I was kind of gobsmacked, I still am, but I’m just having the time of my life.”

 

West Side Story on Sydney Harbour is playing until April 21st.

For more information and tickets: West Side Story on Sydney Harbour

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