Images: Rob Maccoll
The last time Herr Brecht and I crossed paths was in a high school drama room, some 16 years ago and, to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t taken with his work. Come opening night of QTC’s indigenous production of his most famous play, and all I could remember about Brecht was that I was supposed to remember something about Brecht. Nonetheless, as the corrugated iron curtain flew up on Mother Courage, I was put at ease. These people I knew.
Probably his best known play, Brecht’s epic Mother Courage (1939) is set on the battlegrounds of the European thirty years’ war, 1618-1648. This production, adapted in a new translation by Wesley Enoch and Paula Nazarski, is set in a post-apocalyptic Australia, a world where ‘government is lost and human greed takes the form of mining armies.’ The indigenous population is clearly divided and, like the original, this Mother Courage is making her living – surviving the impossible odds – by profiteering from war. Continue reading Review: Mother Courage – Queensland Theatre Company and QPAC at The Playhouse, QPAC
A few months after I was married I happened to be on tour for Queensland Theatre Company in one of their far-ranging theatre in education teams. This is the mid-1970s, by the way. Out little three-person troupe was playing far northern and central Australia in a play about a white boy who had run away into the bush. I remember he faced his demons and a very large (puppet head) crocodile (pre-Dundee days) during his adventures and, by play’s end, returned back home ready presumably to face whatever life threw at him. I remember the kids in the mission stations around Cape York screaming in delighted terror when I would emerge as the crocodile.
So it was at QTC’s latest offering Alana Valentine‘s truly wonder-filled play A Headful of Love directed by Wesley Enoch that I found myself witnessing another Australian play that follows a now-familiar track – the going ‘away’ from the known into the unknown (city to desert heart) to escape something. Typically, protagonists are either destroyed or resurrected in some way. It’s a theme that post-colonial Australia’s still obsessively examining in its navel-gazing, self-identification quest. I remember our primary school social studies courses being jam-packed with stories of doomed and dying explorers who had ventured into the centre of the vast continent without a clue. They were presented to us as heroes, and it was the kind of mad, boys’ own adventure, the sort that had infatuated imperial Britain.
Australian drama across the years has been quite keen on this trope which is, of course, drawn from a far earlier literary theme that examined the differences between city and country and ‘civilised’ v ‘uncivilised’ behaviour. Women and children in the landscape find their way into Australian art and literature in the 19th century. In dramatic terms it’s a set up that just works; the juxtaposition of fragile things against a rugged, harsh, and unforgiving landscape – the ‘feminine’ and ‘domestic’ entering the ‘masculine’ world of colonial pioneering. Putting an outsider into unfamiliar territory can make for tragic or comic material. In the case of Ms Valentine’s play – a little of both. Continue reading Review: A Headful of Love – Queensland Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre QPAC