Roald Dahl and Charles Dickens are some of the iconic muses cited by Australian composer Benji Riggs, who has embarked on the ambitious task of writing the book and music for an original musical in the hopes that his work will mirror the impact of these literary greats.
Riggs’ new show titled The Boy with the Golden Fox will have its world premiere on 19 July in Adelaide, Australia. “I grew up with beautiful, powerful stories by Roahl Dahl and Charles Dickens, timeless stories buried in our psyche as a culture. I wanted to create something like that, a special story that stays with you as you grow up.”
Unlikely friendship and overcoming adversity are at the heart of Riggs’ narrative. Through this work, he wanted to create stories aimed at children that had a sense of maturity within them. He wrote this work with a sense of gravity that can speak to all ages, “It’s a story they can revisit in ten years and find something new.”
At the story’s centre is Ewing, the son of a hunter, whose father told him the story of the mythical Golden Fox. Intrigued by the story, Ewing pursues the fox and gets lost in woods. The fox and Ewing have opposing beliefs and motivations, but throughout the play they find common ground as they seek to outrun the Wommolly – a creature of shadow and hunger.
This is the first show Riggs is producing under the banner of The Flying Elephant Company, a multi-media business creating original content for families. He designs work that he hopes will encourage connection between parents and their children, as he explains, “This hour-long family musical is the perfect event for the school holidays. With orchestral music and a heartfelt story, it will not only delight but will leave you hopeful for what might come next”. The cast includes Jaxon Joy, Millie Brake, André Chaney, Noah Magourilos, Bridget Tran and Gracie Cheung.
Through The Flying Elephant Company, Riggs plans to publish a children’s book version of The Boy with the Golden Fox. He has collaborated with a Canberra-based emerging artist Jadzia Perry who has created beautiful images to support Riggs’ story. Riggs says of this collaboration in a new medium, “[There are] different advantages to having words on a page to having a piece of theatre, there are exciting prospects to explore”.
Riggs grew up writing music, however, he admits his theoretical knowledge of music was lacking. “I wanted to go to uni to study [music] but I couldn’t play an instrument well enough so I never auditioned for those kinds of places.” Eventually, Riggs studied acting in London in 2017 and took a chance at auditioning for a songwriting and production course at the Liverpool Institute for the Performing Arts (LIPA) which he was accepted into. “I went in the direction of composition, that’s where I learned the most. It awoke this part of me I always knew was there, I [once] didn’t have the tools, I finally got to do [composition]!”.
While in Liverpool, Riggs was given the opportunity to write music for a play called Doomsday directed by Nick Bagnall who influenced his creative freedom and gave Riggs confidence in himself as a composer. Bagnall encouraged Riggs to “try things and see where it leads you”.
Inspired by Bagnall’s mentorship, Riggs encourages emerging creatives to do as he was once advised. “Do it, try it. If you don’t know what to do, there are so many people with a strong desire to help you expand your skills and turn that into a craft. Part of it is a belief in what you can do, in your talent, your ideas – you believe that they truly can be something.”
“Those of us who don’t have an audience to encourage us along – we should give ourselves the freedom and acceptance to try something; you don’t have to be successful [first] to have that creative freedom.”
The Boy with the Golden Fox will run at the Parks Theatre between 19 to 23 July. It is family friendly and accessible. More information about the event can be found here. Excerpts of Riggs’ music can be heard here.