Review: Life Etc.: All Together Now at Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)

Image: Empire Theatre

And so, tonight to the theatre again – this time to Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre Studio and part of a full house for David Burton’s new play Life Etc. part of the theatre’s Home Grown Series of new worksIt’s also the first work from the collective All Together Now who ‘aim to create more “gutsy and juicy” roles for women within the theatre industry in Queensland and strongly believe in supporting women in theatre.’ (programme note)

It’s always exciting to be seeing a new work: no preconceptions, just an open road to travel for (in this case) 75 or so minutes with the two protagonists Tash (Emily Curtin) and Karen (Kate Murphy).  

Tash has screwed up in her job at Centrelink. Her boss Karen has to fire her but not before they spend an evening fixing up reams of paperwork – coloured papers which are sifted and sorted. Tash and Karen work surrounded by piles and piles of cardboard boxes – a clever (if uncredited) set design which contains various prop pieces brought out into the action.

As the papers are sorted Tash brings out the brownies and Karen a bottle of wine. They eat, drink and share some often uncomfortable personal facts with each other. Their interaction is, by turn, light and sombre although, in the opening minutes, there are a couple of bits of juvenilia and clowning about that make the play appear a tad insecure about itself. However, the old farting jokes had the audience rollicking, and an otherwise apparently mature man besides me fell apart at the mention of the word, ‘poo.’ But it’s not all light sitcom or  girly D&M stuff; the play itself gets far more interesting as a piece of theatre when it goes beyond Tash and Karen’s after-hours shift at Centrelink. Continue reading “Review: Life Etc.: All Together Now at Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)”

Review: April’s Fool – Empire Theatre Projects Company at Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)

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. Continue reading “Review: April’s Fool – Empire Theatre Projects Company at Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)”

Scratch! Dave Burton (Interview 13)

David Burton

Someone on Twitter this morning posted ‘I wish we could have creative development all the time.’ This sentiment is well understood by artists everywhere. Of course, creative development for its own sake is hardly the point. Every theatre maker longs to have the work go before an audience, and, hopefully, be remunerated appropriately for the effort involved. But, to begin at the beginning …

SE Queensland has some rather good creative development opportunities for independent artists and creatives, as well as support platforms for low-cost productions, many of which are of new work. A few are long-standing and well-regarded by the industry. They include various programs out of  !Metro Arts, which most see as the support hub for this kind of work, certainly in Brisbane. There’s also La Boite’s Indie program which has just finished its first year of operation and, if you are to believe those who have taken part, or spoken to audience members around the  place, then it’s been a raging success. Queensland Theatre Company has several long-standing writing programs which include the prestigious Premier’s Drama Award, which is the only one of its kind in offering a full production at the end of a lengthy creative development period. In the regions, JUTE in Cairns is involved in creative development of new work, whilst Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre Projects Company, through its Regional Stages grants, initiated a creative development process for what eventually became David Burton’s April’s Fool. Earlier this year, the play went on to a fully professional production at home, in Ipswich and in Brisbane. The EPC recently also engaged in creative development process for Water Wars, which will get up in the 2011 La Boite Indie Season.  Now La Boite has launched Scratch for 2011. I wanted to know more, so I asked David Burton. He’s one of the 5 newly-created Associate Artists that have been engaged for the year to produce new works from … scratch. Continue reading “Scratch! Dave Burton (Interview 13)”

Furious Angels (Review) !Metro Arts Independents 2010

A long time ago now, it seems, when vinyl records were the thing, you could get regular Singles (one song to a side) as well as LPs (long play and lots of tracks). There were also EPs – extended play recordings, which usually had two or three singles to a side.

Well, of course, times and technology have changed as I was reminded a few years ago when I referred to someone’s being like ‘a cracked record’ and drawing blank stares from the largely sub-20 year olds in the group. These days the new ‘single’ is an iTunes download or a file-share on one of the other less-legal networks. From Tuesday this week, you could download single tracks of the Beatles from iTunes – showing my age, right?

What’s all this about? Well, I’m reminded by the variations and changes in recorded music presentations of a current fad in theatre right now – for single or EP performances of monologues. They’re not quite a one-act (though most of them are) and certainly not an LP – a ‘full-length’ play, though goodness knows, since the death of the three act play, it’s hard to know what a ‘full-length’ play is anymore. Time perhaps to dump that outworn phrase along with the ‘well-made play’ dodo that continues to lurk and squark somewhere in the room like Poe’s Raven.

2010 is the year of the monologue and the ‘EP’ in Brisbane. When is the last play you went to that had an interval?

Furious Angels by David Burton, directed by Travis Dowling, and currently playing at !Metro Arts Sue Benner theatre, is an EP but almost a Single – this one comes in at 60 minutes and not the more usual ’90 minutes without an interval’ type show we’re getting used to. Sighs of relief often accompany the news that there won’t be an interval – though the downside is no interval buzz, no chat about the show and, for management, no bar sales and fewer employment opportunities for casual staff – but I digress. Furious Angels has all the feeling to me of a sketch for a larger play out there, a short story, a chapter in a book or, perhaps, one part of a collage of one-person works – for Furious Angels provides the opportunity, as do all good monologues, for bravura acting. In this production, the play’s first, it’s for Daniel Mulvilhill who moves with ease from one character to another in Mr Burton’s piece set in a decaying mental institution somewhere in the 1930s.

The narrative structure of Furious Angels whilst overt – the narrator prefixes each episode as a ‘Chapter’ – is rather flimsy, though the theme is compelling. There are more than a few historical and literary hat-tips to, among other personages, Edgar Allan Poe and William Shakespeare, and they work well. Mr Burton is one of our more promising writers: Lazarus Won’t Get Out of Bed and April’s Fool are two of his better known and more recent works. This one, an eerie fable about the bleakness and blackness of authoritarianism feels more like a dream or a mood piece than that ‘well-made play’ which, I am sure, it has no intentions of being, but it does signal a development in the direction of the writer’s style from the more structured form of his earlier works. It’s a big subject to tackle across 60 minutes, and Mr Burton has done well to encapsulate it in fragments via a teller of tales, a narrator (Dan) who brings the subject matter to life through a handful of the asylum’s characters (Dizzy, Dr Aintel, nurse Lenore and Will).

The delight in this kind of stage work is the marriage of text and actor’s body with all its transformative power in what is a largely empty space. Travis Dowling’s direction understands this, though I found some of the sound effects repetitious in their usage – grim moments are signalled again and again in the soundtrack. And speaking of current fads, do we always need soundscapes backing action? Just wondering …

The fine performance by Mr Mulvihill is what lingers in your mind after the show is down. I love watching actors at work, which is why I swatted aside my initial thought that Furious Angels could work just as well as a radio play. It’s up close and personal – direct audience address, though some of the narrator’s asides are a little self-conscious for my taste – and the running C-bomb gag is not so much undergrad as overdone. The built-in humour of Furious Angels text doesn’t need such obviousness, and Mulvihill’s charm and stage presence fill it out admirably.

Kudos to the entire production and design team which includes collaboration on set and costume from David Burton, co-producer Carley Commens and Travis Dowling. Kylie Morris is on form as always with her sound design, and Ben Hughes‘ top-knotch lighting design provides a brilliantly-lit platform in which characters are born and die, emerge and retreat in this fragmented fairy-tale.

It’s being a good year for independent theatre in Brisbane and the regions.

Furious Angels plays till Saturday 20th this week at !Metro Arts and at Empire Theatres (Toowoomba) on November 25-26.

Getting things right: Barbara Lowing – (Interview 11)

If Barbara Lowing is in a show, you know your night in the theatre is going to be a good one. I love her work, for which, incidentally, she’s won a stack of acting awards. I note from her C-V that she was the first Queensland graduate of WAAPA (West Australian Academy of Performing Arts). Apart from being a director-teacher and a terrific photographer, she’s also great company, so it’s good to catch up with her for lunch last week. Barb’s in Toowoomba rehearsing for the Empire Theatre Projects Company (EPC) production of April’s Fool by David Burton, directed by Lewis Jones.

This production marks a lot of firsts for the EPC: the first fully professional show, the first to tour – it opens in Oakey this week, then Chinchilla, Dalby, Ipswich and a city season in Brisbane at the Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts. April’s Fool is possibly also the first-ever home-grown play about a real-life event in the city, the death of a young man, Kristjan Terauds in April 2009 from the complications following illicit drug use.

Director Lewis Jones heard of the events from mutual friends of the Terauds. His bringing of the story to the stage has been done with the full cooperation of Kristjan’s parents and extended family. The play also offers the perspective of other characters in the play – friends, observers – some of whom take varying points of view. ‘It’s didactic but never melodramatic,’ Barb adds. ‘Lewis and David have structured the text so there’s no sense of lecturing ever.’

We chat about the way the EPC production team have been working on what has turned out to be a verbatim theatre piece researched and scripted by Dave Burton and which the company has created from the ground up. Material has been drawn from interviews with friends, family and others associated with the event which is not yet 18 months old. The play’s action spans the 6 days following Kristjan’s death, in which his family attempted to come to terms with that most terrible of experiences for a parent, their child’s death. Whilst some names have been altered, all characters are ‘real’ and there’s not a word in the play, Barb tells me, that hasn’t been taken from interview transcripts, or from the diary which David Terauds (Kristjan’s father) kept during the event – as his book of solace, I imagine.  Continue reading “Getting things right: Barbara Lowing – (Interview 11)”