“It has been my dream to do a show with the disabled experience at its heart”: Gracie McGonigal on The Little Big Things at @sohoplace
Following the successful staging of Brokeback Mountain, starring Lucas Hedges, Mike Faist and Emily Fairn, at @sohoplace comes The Little Big Things: A New Musical. The new production is based on the inspiring story and memoir of Henry Fraser, a formerly aspiring rugby player who was left paralysed at the age of 17 after an accident at a beach in Portugal. During his recovery, Fraser found an app on his iPad that allowed him to draw with a stylus, which he could hold onto with his mouth. From there, his artistry grew and evolved into different art mediums such as paint, pencils and other drawing utensils. Now dubbed as a mouth artist, Fraser’s story has been made into a musical starring wheelchair user Ed Larkin alongside a big cast of talented individuals, from established West End performer Linzi Hateley to young rising stars like Johnny Amies and Gracie McGonigal.
The Little Big Things, originally set to end in November, has extended its run up until March 2024, marvelling in critical acclaim as the venue celebrates its first birthday. McGonigal plays Fraser’s love interest throughout the play. A bionic arm user who found Fraser’s memoir inspiring, McGonigal has starred in other successful productions across London such as The Crucible at the National Theatre, Cinderella at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and Aladdin at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith. She also helps vet plays to use for the National Theatre Connections Festival. The Upcoming caught up with her to talk about meeting Fraser and hearing his feelings on the adaptation, her thoughts on following up after Brokeback Mountain’s success and intimacy in performing at the round at @sohoplace.
Tell us what The Little Big Things is about and the role you play in this brand-new musical.
The Little Big Things is a new musical about disability and learning to find happiness in your everyday life. It’s a beautiful musical about growing up and living the disabled experience. I play Katie in the show, who is the protagonist Henry’s love interest throughout his life.
Which part of the story resonated with you the most, the part that urged and led you to want to be a part of telling this story?
As soon as I found out about this show, I wanted to be a part of it! I had read Henry’s book – his memoir – and found it completely inspiring. As a disabled woman myself, I really resonated with the subject matter. Although Henry’s impairment is vastly different from mine, I really believe in the importance of sharing disabled stories. It has been my dream to do a show with the disabled experience at the heart.
Did you meet Henry Fraser before or after the show opened and get an authentic recount of the memoir from the man himself?
I met Henry once we’d opened the show and he is such a lovely man. I spoke to him about the differences and similarities between his real story and our stage one and attempted to understand how it might feel to have his life made into a show. He said it was pretty surreal but completely moving – which is huge approval from the man himself!
You guys are following up on the successful staging of Brokeback Mountain at @sohoplace. Was it daunting introducing a new play into the new venue after such an iconic story with a stacked cast? How important is it to be able to perform a variety of shows in one specific place?
I saw Brokeback Mountain and absolutely loved it! I also loved how different it was from our show. It had a tiny yet star-studded cast and such an established iconic story behind it. We in comparison have a large cast and a brand-new, never-before-seen story. I’m delighted that both shows have a place at @sohoplace. It’s so important to produce new theatre and I have been a fan since I came to see As You Like It. I think it’s amazing that we can give platforms to such a variety of shows.
What is it like performing in the round of @sohoplace? Is it more intimate than a typical stage with the audience surrounding you?
I love performing in the round! It feels like the audience is right on stage with you – as intimate as it is in your living room. It makes for such a tender connection with the audience, which really suits our piece specifically. I want the audience to feel like they know the Fraser family as well as we do. Theatre has never felt more “live” than in the round.
What was the atmosphere of the premiere like and how did the audience receive it? How important was the energy from that initial crowd in gauging and understanding the importance of telling this particular story?
Premiering a new show is a daunting task because all you have to go on is how much we, the actors, love and care about the piece. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the people are going to love it! Our first preview was honestly one of the best nights of my life because we as a company realised that people were connecting with the show as much as we are. The fact that people loved our show affirmed that this is a story that is important to tell and share with the world.
What’s your favourite song from the play – to perform, to hear, or even just one that relates to you the most?
My favourite song in the show to perform is definitely Work of Heart. I love seeing the audience really connect with it. The song is full of such joy and I get to hear Malinda sing every night – what’s not to love?!
What kind of opportunities and experiences did working on the Connections Festival provide for you and your acting journey?
I unfortunately never performed in National Theatre Connections but have been involved in reading the plays as an actor to help with dramaturgy and figuring out which plays are the right ones to be sending to schools around the country. I love National Theatre Connections as an organisation. I think it’s so important to give young people the opportunity to perform regardless of funding and resources. It’s important to give young people access to plays that are designed for them and get them thinking outside the box. It’s incredible to see what people come up with every year and the plays are always stellar!
Images: Pamela Raith
The Little Big Things is at @sohoplace until 2nd March 2024. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.