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Saturday 24 March 2018

Disney seeks to copy Game of Thrones in new Northern Ireland musical

Disney's new musical The Lodge Photo: Disney
Disney's new musical The Lodge Photo: Disney

Ian Burrell

Disney is seeking to emulate Game of Thrones in using Northern Ireland’s landscape in creating a global hit as it films what it hopes will be a successful follow-up to its phenomenal High School Musical franchise.

The Lodge, a musical, is mostly set on the 400-acre Montalto Estate at Ballynahinch in County Down, where Disney is shooting the story of Skye, a 15-year-old city girl who goes with her father to live in a rural holiday lodge following the death of her mother.

The project represents another huge opportunity for the Northern Ireland production community, which is developing a global reputation, especially as a location for science-fiction stories. Ridley Scott’s new film, starring Kate Mara, is being made at Galgorm Castle, Ballymena. The same location has been used for The Frankenstein Chronicles, a television series starring Sean Bean.

“Northern Ireland has a great production pool and up until now it has been mostly known for swords and dragons,” said David Levine, the director of programming for the Disney Channels in the UK and Ireland. “Disney Channel is bringing songs and dancing – we have a great, talented cast who can not only act but sing and dance and we have original songs.”

The Lodge stars London-based actress Sophie Simnett
The Lodge stars London-based actress Sophie Simnett

The musical will feature nine songs, which are performed more than 30 times during the 10-part series and which Disney hopes will become hit tunes as well as comprising a successful soundtrack album. Some will be released with “high-concept music videos”.

Disney will also be hoping that the project can match the phenomenal merchandising success of its past musical projects.

“The Disney Channel has had a great history of bringing music to its audiences,” said Levine. “We can only hope that we can hit the success of the likes of High School Musical, Camp Rock and Hannah Montana.”

The Lodge stars London-based actress Sophie Simnett as Skye and features mostly British talent alongside young French, Dutch and Scandinavian actors. It will be launched on the Disney Channel in the UK and Ireland in the autumn and later rolled out to territories in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Disney hope their new musical will be as successful as High School Musical
Disney hope their new musical will be as successful as High School Musical

Disney said the key themes of The Lodge would include “the ability to accept change”, “overcoming hardship” and “being true to who you are”. But it will also reference “key millennial trends”, including the centrality to young lives of social-media communication and reality TV shows.

Disney has built bespoke sets around the woodland and lake at the Montalto Estate and is shooting further scenes at the nearby Castlewellan Country Park. Members of the construction crew and the props team formerly worked on HBO’s Game of Thrones.

The series was inspired by North Star, a long-running Disney Israel drama, that was identified as having potential for a remake in a musical format. It follows the success of 2014’s Cheshire-shot fantasy drama Evermoor, Disney’s first original series to be filmed in the UK and for which a 20-part follow-up series is currently being completed.

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