Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Dan Collins: Dune! The Musical

By | Published on Friday 5 April 2024

I was obviously intrigued when I heard about ‘Dune! The Musical’, because honestly, who wouldn’t have their interest piqued by the idea of someone taking the whole of Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi novel and turning it into a one man musical show? 

I’ve heard a lot of good things about this, and was keen to find out more about the whys and wherefores from its creator and performer Dan Collins. So I did that, ahead of his upcoming dates at the Bread & Roses Theatre. 

CM: Can we start with a vague summing up of what happens in ‘Dune’, for those who may not be familiar with the book or films? 
DC: The story of ‘Dune’ is set in a distant future where powerful elites compete for control of a valuable resource known as the spice melange.

This incredible substance is only found on one planet in the known universe, Arrakis, aka Dune. The only catch; the planet is infested with enormous worms that violently attack any source of rhythmic vibration, including the sound of human footsteps. 

We are invited to follow a young man, Paul Atreides, as he travels across the stars and into a dark future, his journey plagued with visions of terrible war and bloody conquest.

Paul is Duke’s son, the heir of House Atreides, and he will have to fight for his life, his family’s honour and for the fate of humanity itself. 

‘Dune’ is a story about power and politics writ at a galactic scale, it is one of the most influential books of the 20th Century and it remains the best selling sci-fi of all time, but if you want a quick answer; it’s about worms.

CM: What made you want to make a live performance out of it?  And why a musical? 
DC: I’ve been singing since I could speak and writing songs for longer than I can remember; any work I do must necessarily include music in some form because I can’t work or live without it.

When I read ‘Dune’ for the first time I was drawn to the character of Gurney Halleck specifically, because he is a fellow musician. In a world of super-evolved humans and unimaginable technological sophistication, the ability to hold a tune is still a valuable trait! 

‘Dune’ has a habit of inspiring creativity. The novel has left fingerprints across pop-culture, inspiring musicians and actors who have been touched by Frank Herbert’s work. 

In my case, it all started as a joke; the idea of taking such a dense work of science fiction and reinterpreting it as musical theatre seemed to be a suitable target for an afternoon’s distraction.

I wrote one song as a joke, and then two, and then a third, by which time the tone had strayed away from parody as I explored the story as experienced by the novel’s warrior-troubadour character, ie Gurney Halleck.

A fan-favourite, Halleck is present throughout the book and combines military expertise with his musical nature as a singer-songwriter. 

Eventually inspiration became an obsession; to retell the story of ‘Dune’ in song, in one hour.

CM: It feels like there’s quite a lot of story to get into the show. How are you managing that? 
DC: Music is magic; at several points in the show I use pastiche and comedy to shoe-horn dense bursts of information in a way that the audience’s brain can’t help but take in. My guitar is a tool used to warp people’s perceptions of time, memory and emotion.

Gurney Halleck’s character is present for all the major beats of the story, and where he is away from the action, we can neatly summarise things with silly little songs!

CM: Tell us a bit about the creative process involved in making the show. Did you just sit down and write or was it more complicated than that?
DC: As I said earlier, it started as a joke; a single song that I didn’t even finish right away. In the first couple of months I wrote four or five songs but this was only the beginning.

As part of the preparation of the piece I took acting lessons, clowning workshops and even started doing stand-up comedy to refine the storytelling skills needed to write and perform ‘Dune! The Musical’. 

Eventually I had about 20 or so songs, which I cut down to fifteen – not including the instrumental intro – and the songs served as the framework that I would hang the story on.

From there it was a case of joining the dots; where is Gurney for each song, or from whose perspective is the song and where in the story are we etc? Lots of paper notes and frantic bursts of creativity in between days and weeks of percolating.

From the initial idea to the debut the show took about fifteen months and, along the way, I have grown as an artist and as a human being.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about yourself now? What job description would you give yourself and how did you come to be doing this?
DC: I’m an unusual person; I’m originally from Ireland but I live and work in Edinburgh. By day I lead tourists on adventures where we explore the history and culture of the city; I even tell a few ghost stories.

By night I perform in bars and clubs as a solo entertainer and I take part in local theatre productions and stand-up comedy. One of my favourite roles is as the facilitator of the Sad Song Club, an open mic night in Edinburgh that does exactly what it says on the tin. 

For many years I struggled in jobs that almost worked for me, but left me exhausted, exasperated or depressed. Through the process of making ‘Dune! The Musical’, I’ve learned to let go of the aspiration to fit in and instead I have worked to carve out my own niche.

Most of the time I just say I’m ‘self-employed’ and leave it at that, because the reality of what I do is multi-faceted and difficult to describe succinctly. I suppose if I had to try to summarise it, I’d say I make fun noises for a living.

CM: What have been the highlights of your creative life so far? 
DC: Prior to ‘Dune! The Musical’, my creative work was confined to the role of a singer-songwriter and guitarist. I have played in a few bands, but it is very unlikely that anyone outside of my friend group circa 2006-2014 heard anything we made!

There have been a few memorable festival experiences and wedding gigs along the way too. One of my favourite projects was called FULL METAL CEILIDH, a six piece band that combined traditional Scottish dancing with blast-beats and gnarly guitar solos.

‘Dune! The Musical’ combines elements from all across my creative life; the show is a melting pot of all my influences and I’m awfully proud of how it’s turned out.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future? 
DC: I want to take ‘Dune! The Musical’ around the world, it has the potential to be an international show but we have to get through this summer first!

As well as another run at the Edinburgh Fringe, I’ll be performing the show at the World Science Fiction Festival, so I hope to make a few waves there.

As well as touring the show around the UK, I have almost finished recording the album, so I’m looking forward to releasing that soon.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?  
DC: I’m taking part in a production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ as well as working towards an acting diploma from Trinity College, so I’m a busy boy at the moment!

Whilst researching Edinburgh’s history for my walking tours, I found myself drawn to the world of folklore as told by mediaeval Scots. As such I spend a lot of time in libraries and museums looking for ideas to add to my own fairy tales. 

All this and tap-dancing lessons every Tuesday! I must be mad!

‘Dune! The Musical’ is on at the Bread & Roses Theatre from 13-14 Apr. For more information and to book tickets head to the venue website here.