Of the Causes of Wonderful Things

Of  the Causes of Wonderful Things

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

Brisbane Powerhouse 

1st – 4th of May 2013


Reviewed by Guy Frawley



I like scary movies.



I may have realised about two thirds of the way through The Blair Witch Project that I’d possibly bitten off more than my 12-year-old-self could chew without incurring deep psychological damage and spent the rest of the film whimpering at the foot of my chair in the cinema, but apart from that I’ve always liked scary movies. I think it’s the rush of adrenaline and the guttural flight-or-fight response you feel deep inside you that I like so much.


In Of The Causes of Wonderful Things Talya Rubin has created a deeply disturbing piece of theatre that began to twist such a knot deep in my gut.


I was sitting inside a familiar space, with people behind and beside me and yet at times I felt completely alone and terribly vulnerable. There were times when I had that feeling you get, in a moment of completely illogical terror when you’re all alone and your feet are hanging over the side of the bed and you all of a sudden think of hand sliding out and wrapping its cold fingers around your ankle.


Of the Causes of Wonderful Things

Set in the American south the story follows Esther Drury in the aftermath of the disappearance of her 5 nieces and nephews. Rubin deftly introduces us to several members of the small community as we go, along with Esther’s sister and her missing children. The characters all bear their own unique idiosyncrasies and it’s a real credit to Rubin’s abilities as both writer and actor that she is able to bring these characters to such vivid life. Costume changes are kept to a bare minimum (ie. A pair of reading glasses) and the character accents all stay well within the territory of your standard southern accent (except for one notable Parisian exception) and yet you knew the moment she started to speak which character we were hearing from. It reminded me of a séance, with Rubin the willing medium enduring possession at the hands of these characters as they detailed their own personal tale of darkness. 



The staging, set and props added to this sense of the disconcerting through brilliant use of scale. At times the stage shrunk to the size of a claustrophobically small box, lit with pale, down shining light and an earthen floor, barely enough room for Esther’s disembodied head and the 5-inch body of her ghostly niece. At other times the stark stage lights projected a towering wraith upon the back of the stage and up into the rafters, ominously shadowing Rubin, threatening to consumer her.


I really hope that over the next few nights there will be some school groups in the audience as this is the kind of work that young performers NEED to see to give them some ideas of how much can be done with so little. An overhead projector and a handful of dirt are all Rubin used to play the scene of a child, half dead, being buried alive and yet I was far more affected by this than I was a few weeks ago, watching a similar scene in Danny Boyle’s $20 Million dollar film Trance.


There is no neat ending, we find out generally what has happened but there isn’t ever any sense of resolution. From start to finish the entire piece played out like a meditation on uncertainty and perhaps that’s part of what made this so viscerally effective.


Special mention must go Hayley Forward for the sound design and to Richard Vabre for the lighting design. Both sound and light are used to great effect throughout the piece. The constant background  noise and distant scratching giving an enduring sense of foreboding. The sound design in the final scene was especially chilling, the sound of crunching gravel cutting through the darkness. Vabre’s lighting design assisted Rubin as she played with scale and size. The constant rising and fading of the spotlights also had the interesting effect of ultimately appearing like a drawn out camera flash, illuminating a moment in the darkness in the same way that each monologue gave another flash of detail.


Walking out of the theatre my friend commented on how much the whole thing made her think of Twin Peaks, only with 5 little Laura Palmers. Personally I thought it felt like it was three buckets of Camp and a Jessica Lange cameo short of an episode of American Horror Story: Asylum. But most importantly here, Of The Causes of Wonderful Things is able to do something that film and television really can’t compete with.



This show engages you at a deeply imaginative level and conjures thoughts and feelings out of thin air.



The usage of light is fundamental to this show which I thought was really fitting as I kept going back to the image in my mind of a tale being told around a camp fire and how primal the act of story telling can really be.



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