Profile: Lachie Maclean

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Lachie McLean reckons the cows would dry up if he sung in the milking shed. That’s not to say classical music doesn’t blare out. Theatre runs in his blood, but he leaves the crooning to his talented casts. It’s hard to know whether he’s just being modest, or if it’s true. Dating back to 1976, Lachie has produced and directed a string of successful musicals, theatre and variety shows, yet he’s very low-key and humble about his contributions. Maybe that’s typical of a grounded man of the land, after all Lachie is first and foremost a dairy farmer from Waipu. The blend ain’t typical. Dairy farmer’s don gumboots and a whistle at best, and the only stage they usually talk about is when to dry off the girls for winter. But Lachie found his theatre feet from a very young age thanks to a love of performing arts on his mother’s side of the family. Born in Whangarei in 1952, Lachie studied at Auckland’s Kings College where he crammed in as much performance as possible. Faced with returning to rural life, Lachie decided to explore a director’s gap at Otamatea Repertory Theatre. Bringing the house down in the late 1970’s with, Where’s Charley? Lachie hasn’t stopped… Jekyll and Hyde, Cats, Lés Miserable, Miss Saigon – to name just a few.

“Theatre is my escape, farming is my reality,” Lachie says. “I draw on the two because they complement each other. Not long ago we amalgamated a family farm and when people management was needed, directing skills took centre stage.”

The outdoor pageant to celebrate 150 years of Scottish/Nova Scotian settlement in Waipu was an ambitious undertaking. Co-writing the piece over three years and directing the drama on the Waipu River Bank in 2003 was an unforgettable experience for Lachie. A healthy production budget of around $200,000 for the two-night event allowed him to bring the drama to life. It was a spectacle of lights, sound and visual technology. “The Waipu Museum Board was gutsy in allowing me to run with my dream. Basically they just let me get on with it.”

Three years later Lachie received a Civic Award for services to theatre.

Winter on the farm is approaching, milking has paused but Lachie has not. He’s hitting the stage again with the global extravaganza, Mamma Mia! Based on the songs of ABBA, there will be 21 performances, from June 16 through to July 8, at Forum North in Whangarei. It’s a big commitment for the voluntary cast, orchestra and support crew, but many of them are the same ‘dream team’ Lachie started with 30 years ago.

Mamma Mia! comes with a strict production guide from the playwrights, former band member Bjorn Ulvaeus and British writer Catherine Johnson. Brand ABBA means big bucks and big budgets. Set standards, designed by Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop are intense, and the result aims to rival any Broadway show. When a shipping container finally arrived with all the glitzy costumes, cast and crew waited in eager anticipation. The huge metal doors swung open to reveal… an empty container. Lachie has had a few such glitches, but is confident he’s ironed out the creases and the show will be a hit.

“Those infectious pop tunes are actually trickier than you’d think, with loads of backstage harmonies. It’s an intimate show especially in the Bougainville Theatre, which only seats 350. The audience will be drawn in, I’ve used every inch of space."

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Photography: Josie Gritten