Review: I Feel Awful – Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm at Bille Brown Studio

8 September, 2011 by No Comments

What a hoot this show is – a refreshingly anarchic romp that takes the piss out of theatre and itself; I think this lack of pretension in I Feel Awful is one of the things I liked most about it.

Whilst it is dedicated to the ‘late’ Michael Gow (he is no such thing – MG has never been late to anything in his life) it is one of the experiments that QTC’s last Artistic Director programmed into his final season for the Company. Black Lung were commissioned to create something and began with a creative development in late 2010. What eventually emerged as I Feel Awful has now popped up in 2011 Brisbane Festival time, and right good festival fare it is too; you can see it at 7pm or later at 9pm on some evenings during the Festival. Check the times on the Company site for the show. By the way, when not happily engaged in writing plays, Michael Gow is equally happily engaged (right now) directing the Company’s next production No Man’s Land by the late, great Harold Pinter somewhere else in the building, one assumes.

Part of the sleight of hand of the Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm (their name is the only grandiose thing about this group of wonderfully smart and funny Melbourne thesps) is to set up the premise that the former Artistic Director of the Company has requested their presence to show Brisbane how theatre is made – first cringe button pressed. To do so they have engaged a group of young Brisbane actors as their ‘interns’ (that word again) and attempt to imprint their own brand of theatre making on our best and brightest. The result is splendidly contrived mayhem and 70 minutes of high-energy, dada-esque delight. The benign features of Michael Gow oversee the general irreverence and trashing of some theatrical sacred cows including his own plays, some of which are splendidly ‘re-imagined’ in a delicious gender inversion. I couldn’t help but feel he would be delighted by what he was seeing unfold in the Bille Brown Studio.

I Feel Awful is cleverly constructed – and then torn apart – terrifically performed, and will appeal to anyone who loves the idea of theatre.

Speaking of trashing, I Feel Awful is a messy hoot as well. Here’s another production that sets about destroying and remaking just about everything in as comprehensive a way as is possible. I do feel for the stage management teams on shows like this – a special shout out to the heroic Shaun O’Rourke on this one. Nice to see him get the last word!

I’ve pondered (and written) about the trashing tendency in a lot of contemporary theatre before. I am sure there’s a dissertation or two or, at least, a learned paper on why this is so. Maybe it’s the most obvious way for some theatre-makers to demonstrate their perennial desire to overturn the status quo. On a deeper level it’s about the theatre’s ability to demonstrate the impermanence of anything – from artistic directors and their aesthetics to politics and beyond, as well as the flux and evolution of culture and the insecurity of our times.

I Feel Awful plays at QTC’s Bille Brown Studio at 78 Montague Road, South Brisbane until 10th September. You’ll need to get in fast.

Writer and Director: Thomas M Wright; Designer: Thomas M Wright; Design Consultant: Simone Romaniuk; Lighting Designer: Govin Ruben;
Stage Manager: Shaun O’Rourke; ASM: Daniel Sinclair
The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm: Liam Barton, Gareth Davies, Aaron Orzech, Vaczadenjo Wharton-Thomas, Thomas M Wright
With: Courtney Ammenhauser, Finn Gilfedder, Will Horan, Tiarnee Kim, Mary Neary, Essie O’Shaughnessy, Charlie Schache, Nathan Sibthorpe, Stephanie Tandy