Rachael Fernandes on musicals and her new YA novel, The Mercury in Me

"Being able to turn up every week to see the same faces gave a sense of belonging, and helped me tie to something in my early twenties"

This post was written by Rachael Fernandes, author of The Mercury in Me.

In a surprise to everyone I know, I was a shy child. Right now, I am not afraid to say my point, crack a joke, or try and haggle for just about anything. But the journey there, just like my main character Maya, was a complex one.

My family love musicals. It makes sense, Bollywood is one of the biggest film industries in the world, a love of song and dance prevalent in Indian culture. But my family also love Western musicals. I grew up watching The Sound of Music every Christmas, my Mum fondly telling me about how the only film she ever queued for at the cinema was Grease (and yes we did have the full soundtrack, and yes I can probably sing every song off by heart). What I loved as a child was not just the music, but just the sheer joy of the storytelling, how the music amplified every emotion. It hooked me.

I started seeing musicals on the stage and couldn’t get enough of it. I would go early in the morning during the school holidays and queue for day tickets to sit in rogue parts of the theatre. Luckily now TodayTix exists. However, there is one musical that really stood out for me, and the one to-date that I’ve seen the most: Wicked. So much so that I had to make it Maya’s first musical in The Mercury in Me. Wicked captured something I hadn’t really seen before: a deep truth in the story. What it felt like to be the underdog, in the shadows, and how you could rise above it all. Okay, I related to Elephaba. But something did change within me when I saw that show, and I wanted in Mercury to communicate how theatre does have the power to change people.

Much like Maya, I didn’t perform until I was seventeen. My friend had done the school musical the year before, and suggested I did it with her. It was We Will Rock You, a show I am now so nostalgically fond about, I wrote a whole book about it. Unlike Maya, I have no innate musical talent, so I was just in the ensemble for the whole thing. But I did have a blast. I found myself loving the camaraderie of the group, the in-jokes, the teamwork to get to an end result. And it helped that it was all powered by Queen, a band I was very familiar with, due to my dad and brother being big fans of Freddie Mercury, an Indian icon.

After university, I felt lost and lonely in London, while a lot of my friends were pursuing masters. Desperate to make some friends, I turned back to something I knew: musicals. The London amdram scene is thriving, and I fell into a group where I performed for a few years, until the pandemic. Being able to turn up every week to see the same faces gave a sense of belonging, and helped me tie to something in my early twenties.

Here’s the real kicker: I can’t sing or dance. And while I can act, I had to draw a line with myself on always being in the background. And now, I’ve chosen to stick to what I can do: act and make people laugh, which is why I now do improv comedy. But I still regularly go watch shows (and power walk to the Hamilton soundtrack).

What I wanted to show in Mercury is that theatre, and musicals, should be accessible to everyone. For years I watched shows and films dominated by white faces, recently now I’ve started to see more diversity in the cast and shows being put on. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, theatre should be accessible to you, and you should be able to see yourself in it. So I hope like Freddie Mercury inspired Maya in The Mercury in Me, someone will take inspiration from her.

Get your copy of The Mercury in Me by Rachael Fernandes here.

1 Comment
  1. […] Credit goes to @www.unitedbypop.com […]

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