Interview: Pat Wilson and Adrian Barnes – Two Adelaide Icons About To Become ‘Older And Gayer’

Adrian Barnes and Pat Wilson are both very well-respected individuals in the Arts Industry. Together they are a tour-de-force, with an energetic chemistry flowing between them.

Adrian Barnes and Pat Wilson are both very well-respected individuals in the Arts Industry. Together they are a tour-de-force, with an energetic chemistry flowing between them. Having been together since 1983, their relationship is fresh and vibrant now as it was over 35 years ago. Anyone who has met them will agree that they are warm and generous with their time. They will go to great lengths to get a good laugh, and they also enjoy taking a subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, dig at each other and the world we live in.

In addition to a very long list of achievements across all areas of the performing arts world, Pat Wilson has written a number of papers and books on the voice and vocal care. As a Musical Director, I was very keen to hear Pat’s viewpoint on the importance of singers and performers to undertake proper training and engage in vocal care, not only in their early stages of learning, but throughout their whole performing life.

“It’s absolutely vital. Because people read fan and gossip magazines, they only read what the publicist want you to hear about actors and about singers in all sorts of genres. They don’t often say that this very world famous singer also has a weekly voice coaching session with a very careful voice practitioner, and works with a repetiteur to knock things straight in their learning. They don’t say that you keep learning all your life if you’re working. So, every performer, from when they go to their first singing lesson onwards, is embarking on an endless journey (until you’re dead!) of finding out how you integrate an emotion and a spirit into a body, by using not just the larynx but a whole body-mind mechanism. My concern is that the singer loves their body and uses their whole body as a tool, not just their bloody necks.”

Adrian Barnes’ resume reads like a dream. From performing in eleven West End musicals, numerous plays around the world, and teaching countless students, both privately and through universities, I was fascinated to find out his insight to the differences between performing in musicals and plays, as well as the knowledge he’s gathered and now passes on to his students.

“I don’t think there is any difference between them. I think they both have as much work in them. In fact, I think a musical is harder work than a straight play because you have context to deliver in a heightened environment when you sing, whereas in a play, whilst the context is in a heightened environment, it tends to have a steadier journey. You might not reach as high a climax of physical and emotional need that demands you to sing something in a play, but physically to keep your emotional life alive and your emotional need alive while you are doing anything is really, really hard work. It’s really great for your physical and mental self. I confess that Pat and I are both in our seventies now, and we both run around like a couple of headless chooks for most of every day. It’s because I love to keep myself alert and alive and learning. I’m still learning every day. I will never cease to learn. Part of going on stage again is to remind myself how exciting it is and how demanding it is so I can keep that alive for my students.

“Creativity is something that never dies. It opens up more as you get older and you have fewer blocks in the way of it. You get less scared of falling over as you get older too – and I mean that in an emotional sense. I don’t care much anymore about what people might think about me, if that makes sense.

“As a performer and teacher, I’ve worked with some pretty famous people in my time, and I’m not going to name drop. I did eleven West End musicals and when you go into a rehearsal room for the first time – and I worked this out from the beginning of my career – the lead actors came in and they knew their lines and their songs well before they entered that room. They had their coaching sessions way before we started rehearsals. We were on catch up as ensemble members, even if we knew it quite well, because they were streaks ahead of us. I say this to every student I teach as an actor: it’s hard work. But if you reach the top of your game, the work trickles in its quantity because you have a publicity machine to look after, you have your physical self to look after and you have your mental health to look after. If you don’t keep all three really healthy, then you can’t work.”

Was it always destined for both Pat and Adrian to go into careers in the arts? Or did they just fall into it?

Adrian: “I had no choice. I played the 2nd little angel in the nativity play at my local church at the age of four in the UK, and at the end the Verger of the church gave me half a crown, which was great deal of money in those days, and I looked at it and looked at the Verger and thought “I’ve just done four lines in a play; that’s a really good return for my money. I’m going to do this for a living!” Seriously, I don’t think I really had a choice. The creative side of me was writing poetry at the age of nine. I was encouraged by my mother at the age of seven to take music lessons; she was a concert pianist, so there was music in my house from as early as I can remember. It became the thing that made my heart sing and it continues to do so to this very day.”

Pat: “I was brought up by a father who was a trained singer. He did the Adelaide Elder Con, Sydney Con, marginally classical. He was a terrible piano player, an absolute shocker. Music was in my household since I was tiny, and I also have the deeply affecting thought of a little girl and her dad singing duets. I was performing music from an early age, and because of my father’s affection for language I was also taught to love my language in a conscious way and to muck around with it. I stuck with it because it’s what I love best.”

I was very curious to hear how Pat and Adrian met, because I had this inkling the story wouldn’t be a typical ‘boy meets girl’ story……and it didn’t disappoint.

Adrian: “I was touring with ‘Pirates of Penzance’, the Broadway version with the Victorian State Opera Company, and when the show was in Adelaide in 1983 I was pretty sick. I got sick when the show was in Sydney and my right ear-drum exploded when we came into land in Adelaide and ruptured. I was feeling really sorry for myself, and Jack Webster, who was in the show with me, told me I had to go out with him to see this wonderful woman who was playing in a bar down the road. He told me I just had to meet her, as he thought she was probably just my type. He threw me into a taxi and took me to The Green Dragon, which I discovered was a gay bar in those days. I walked in and there was Pat Wilson at a white grand piano, under a life sized picture of Noel Coward, with an afro hairdo.”

Pat: “I’d like to point out it wasn’t the picture of Noel that had the afro – it was me.”

Adrian: “Yes, Pat had the afro hairdo and it was red in those days. I walked through the back door of The Green Dragon and madam looked up from the piano, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “So what took you so long?” So, I married her. It’s all true, an absolutely true story.”

Together, Pat and Adrian have been writing and performing their original satirical cabarets for many years, including their latest show, When We Are Older and Gayer. I was keen to hear where they draw their inspiration from for the shows.

Adrian: “Our drive is that we think we have a lot to say about the world we live in, a little card to hold up to the public that says “have a really good look at yourselves and look at where you find yourself.”

Pat: “There’s an awful lot in this world to laugh about and mostly it’s summed up by illness, death, sexual dysfunction and an inanimate world cataclysm. It really summarises the way I see the world.”

Adrian: “We treat this whole thing like you have come into our living room for an hour and we are going to tell you what we feel about these things, not by speaking to you but by singing to you. We will entertain you and hope to make you laugh, make you think a bit, and make you go and tell your friends about it so they can have a laugh with us. It’s a very easy-going cabaret style that we’ve built up between the two of us over the years. We like to tell the audience we have a relationship built on mutual abuse.”

Pat and Adrian’s latest show, When We Are Older and Gayer is currently being performed as part of Star Theatres’ Back2Back Short Show Festival, with their second and final performance coming up on Saturday 31st at 7.30pm.

Adrian: “This is a resurrection of a show we did in Sydney eight years ago.

Pat: “Well, it’s a cut down version as we had to fit in the 50-minute time limit of the Back2Back festival.”

Adrian: “This was originally a two hour show when performed in Sydney. We’re very political, we’re very naughty. We say things you’re not supposed to say out loud about what drops off and what doesn’t get used when you get past 50 really.”

Pat: “It’s all original material.”

Adrian: “There’s a song in the show called ‘Endangered Species’ that Pat wrote in 2002 that’s about the refugee situation. It’s about the fact that if it was about a bunch of whales, we would be protesting out at sea to stop them killing the whales, but we just let our government lock people up. It’s not acceptable. There are songs about marginalisation, a song that Pat wrote years and years ago on her birthday before we even met, we sing a song about sexual dysfunction, as well as sexually transmitted diseases, women who are trapped in a relationship, who are really self-sex orientated but are trapped in a relationship with a man. There’s also a lot of silly songs, including one called ‘Uncles and Aunts’ that’s about my naughty aunt who is a dominatrix and Pat’s naughty uncle who’s a little bit of a sex slave, but you know…these things happen, especially in older years.”

When We Are Older and Gayer, presented by Pat Wilson and Adrian Barnes, will be performing two sessions in the Back2Back Festival at Star Theatres, South Australia on Friday October 23rd at 9pm and Saturday October 31st at 7.30pm.

All tickets $30. Tickets available via Star Theatres website.

Venue is accessible and COVID-19 restriction compliant.

Interview by Ben Stefanoff

Disclaimer: Pat Wilson and Adrian Barnes are both Art reviewers for Glam Adelaide

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