Originally published August 12, 2010.
A disclaimer: I serve on the Board of Empire Theatres Pty Ltd. My opinions are entirely my own and should be understood as distinct from any affiliation I hold with this or any other business or arts organisation. The only barrow I push is that of theatre per se.
At the Ekka last week, and quite by chance, I came upon a sign with an arrow pointing up some stairs. It said something like ‘Queensland Quilters’ Association.’ My sister, who knows about such things, insisted we investigate, so I dutifully trotted up the stairs to find a quite superb exhibition of quilts large and small. Now, I know only a bit about quilting: it’s traditionally a woman’s craft, and that quilts can tell a story – they can be in honour of a cause or a special event like a birth or wedding. Quilts are often worked in a communal setting, are usually composed of patches drawn from various sources, and each one is done with extraordinary care. One of the most beautiful pieces in this particular exhibition was done by a woman during the time that her husband was being treated for terminal cancer. She embroidered his favourite rose on each square of the quilt. I imagine this unknown woman stitching piece after piece, keeping busy, staying focussed on something apart from awful reality – at least for a time. It now remains as a chronicle of a life event and will endure as a testament of her love.
As a piece of art and in form and intention, David Burton‘s play April’s Fool reminds me of nothing so much as a quilt – one created out of pieces of grief, regret, anger, guilt and love. The scraps and fragments are drawn from interviews with friends and family, as well as extracts from David Terauds’ diary, kept as his son lay dying in hospital in the first week of April 2009. Using the diary’s timeline as the thread to bind the patchwork together, David Burton has skilfully assembled these pieces into a quilt that enfolds family, friends and, indeed, the entire community. For anyone who has wondered why or how this family could permit, even encourage the telling of events surrounding the death of their eldest child Kristjan from complications following prolonged and excessive drug use, there is, perhaps, the Greek word: katharsis. More directly, perhaps: The story that lets us laugh and cry begins our healing. April’s Fool in its creation and, especially, its telling provides a healing.
Opening nights are traditionally filled with well-wishers, nervous artists and creatives and critics; you can feel the tension in the air. Last night was no exception as the April’s Fool audience readied for the play’s world premiere performance in the small Queensland town of Oakey. The Empire Theatre provided a bus for Toowoomba audiences to get to the show and, as we travelled through the cold, blustery Downs night, some of the conversation on board seemed a little too cheerful, a little forced, more than a little anxious – opening night nerves I thought. But then, there were more than a few raw nerves exposed last night. Many in the audience were privately anxious for the Terauds family and their friends, especially since characters on stage being portrayed by the acting company were actually part of the audience itself. I, along with many others I suspect, could only imagine how it must have felt as they all sat there reliving what were undoubtedly harrowing events from not quite 18 months ago.
April’s Fool chronicles the effects Kristjan Terauds’ life and death had upon others. He never appears in the play, is never heard, with the exception of one sound effect – his footsteps – as he shuffles to bed the night before his death. The subject matter is powerful, confronting stuff and can be very hard to take, in the way truth and documentary drama often are. There is deep sorrow in this telling as well as the pain of guilt, but there are also flashes of humour, part of the hope the human spirit is capable of in even its darkest hours. The Terauds’ close relationship with their friends Bob, Bill and Nicole is richly drawn. This affirmation of friendship’s power is an aspect of the play which I found particularly moving.
Director Lewis Jones has drawn uniformly excellent performances from the ensemble cast: Barbara Lowing, Allen Laverty, Kathryn Marquet, Sam Clark, and Jessica Harm. They’re provided with marvellous story-telling material in David Burton’s verbatim script, which is never sentimental, but tough and heart-breaking, and true. The actors handle the apparently simple, but actually fiercely difficult and naturalistic dialogue effortlessly well – spinning rich character from raw lines. Each, with the exception of Barbara Lowing, who plays the central role of Kristjan’s mother Helena Terauds, assume multiple roles, coming and going, switching from character to character, from narration to embodied role seamlessly.
The production team of Josh McIntosh (Design) Craig Wilkinson (AV) Tim Panitz (Lighting) and Brett Collery (Sound) create a simple, impressionistic acting space which perfectly complements Lewis Jones’ focus on the performers and the unravelling of the story – most as direct audience address. A couple of AV screens and a white hospital curtain, which also serves as a projection screen, do service as spatial markers; projections mark the passage of time.
The audience rose at the curtain call, but it was not with the kind of high energy ovation that we’re used to, the sort that brings most theatre audiences to their feet. In fact, the audience sat silent for a little while before the applause began. Of course, it was an acknowledgement of the excellence of the work, but Helena Teraud’s cry, ‘He was my son, my son! And I’m going to have to live with the knowledge that I didn’t do enough,’ was still echoing around the big room. As we stood one by one it seemed, at least to me, to be more in quiet support of the family and in recognition of the play’s imperative – to do something about what’s so often fudged by that simplistic, overused term ‘the drug problem.’ But that’s understandable; most of the problem is that we don’t know how to deal with the problem.
The EPC are conducting post-show talkbacks with young people in the hope of getting discussion going. David Terauds’ response and the final line of April’s Fool are equally compelling – and a call to action. What he would do if he could talk to kids about the ‘problem’? ‘I’d just sit down, have a coffee with them, and talk about Kris.’ Only connect … that old phrase … just talk.
For performance times in regional and metropolitan Queensland check the Empire Theatre website.
Rehearsal Image: Photopoint Studio (Allen Laverty, Barbara Lowing with Sam Clark and Jessica Harm)
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