Review: Man=Man & The Elephant Calf – Queensland Theatre Company
Photo: Amelia Dowd (Bille Brown Studio – after the flood)
Off to the theatre last night to see QTC Ed’s (the Company’s education ‘wing’) production of two small Brecht pieces: Man=Man and The Elephant Calf. The mostly grown-up audience responded well to Director Joe Mitchell’s cleverly recalibrated, joyously performative and wonderfully funny examination of Brechtian theatre techniques.
If you have been as underwhelmed as this theatre-lover has been over the years at the near-veneration afforded Brecht, especially in the state’s drama syllabus, then this production is a revelation. It’s irreverent and also Brechtian-authentic to the core. The pickiest of drama teachers are going to love the way it ticks all the boxes in the Brechtian Performance Techniques check-list. It’s also set to stir their classes to ask ‘WTF?’ Oh, and speaking of ‘WTF’ – the text is visibly strewn with the ‘F Bomb’; do schools still have to vet shows for the kind of language found in the playground and on the school bus? I’d love to be a fly on the wall in some of the classrooms where this production is being discussed. I’ve attended several QTC Ed shows over the years with audiences of upper high school-age students. Each time I have been astonished and delighted at the level of sophistication and maturity displayed by these young people during the post-show Q&As.
The ensemble cast of six (Chris Vernon, Helen Cassidy, Nick Cook, Anthony Standish, Leon Cain and Kevin Kiernan-Molloy) are uniformly excellent. Mitchell has set the play in some middle-eastern war zone and the hapless civilian Galy Gay (Vernon) a kind of opportunistic Everyman figure finds himself buffeted by the winds of politics and macho posturing by the soldiers who take him in. The cast are aided and abetted in the onstage mayhem by a very visible crew (led by SM Christopher Horne at the desk). ‘The Director’ remains as an offstage and nicely nameless authoritarian figure who is finally challenged by the team of ‘actors as actors’ in the last 10 or so minutes of the program. This section kicked over any remaining vestiges of the wall separating audience and performer. The meshing of form and content and examination of the nature of reality and performance was, for me, the most interesting and alienating (in the best Brechtian sense of the word) part of the program. Chatting to a cast member afterwards I learned that it had been created in the last week of the rehearsal period. Bravo!
As the standard bearer for a much wider program of education services, QTC’s Ed productions in the Bille Brown Studio, all under Joe Mitchell’s direction, have been one of the best kept secrets for far too long amongst the city’s post-school theatre-going crowd. It’s good to see the Company including one or two of these intelligent and excellent productions in their new Studio program series this year. Joe Mitchell will be missed; he is leaving QTC to take up a new position in the Brisbane performing arts industry. Good luck Joe!
This production (approx 95 mins without interval) plays at the Company’s home premises at 78 Montague Road, South Brisbane until March 12. Check the showtimes from the QTC website. You’ve got a week – give yourself a treat.
Disclaimer: I am currently the Chairman of the Board, Queensland Theatre Company. 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.