shake and stior theatre co & QPAC
QPAC Cremorne Theatre
22 August – 7 September 2013
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
The creative powerhouse behind the smash hit, sell out productions Animal Farm and 1984, return in 2013 with a new Australian play.
Directed by Michael Futcher and featuring a cast of some of Queensland’s finest actors,Tequila Mockingbird visits themes of racial prejudice, the perversion of justice and the consequences of alcohol abuse, all in a uniquely Australian context.
After a woman is attacked in a remote Australian town, the racist underbelly rears its head as the community targets a young Indian Doctor who has recently relocated to the area. Only one local man possesses the strength to uncover the truth and defend the accused in the ultimate fight for what’s right but first, he must take care of other matters, a little closer to home.
Don’t miss this bold, brave new work examining a darker side of Australian culture lurking just below the surface.
There are so many reasons to love shake and stir but first, before you keep reading, book your tickets for their Tequila Mockingbird or you’ll miss out! This is a heart-smart and thought provoking contemporary take on the Pulitzer Prize winning classic novel by Nelle Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960). Kids, if you haven’t read it you’ll want to, after experiencing this production. This is a company consistently bringing us cross-curricular current political and dynamic work – it’s literally breathing new life into old work – and from what I can see, they’ve pretty convincingly cornered the market. If you’re teaching at a school that hasn’t booked them yet, do it. If you’re at a school and your teachers haven’t booked them yet, bug them until they do.
With Nelle Lee’s razor sharp recontextualisation of the original story, in the hands of Director, Michael Futcher and brought to us by one of my favourite combinations of talent on stage, not to mention the same gun creative team, shake and stir have done it again.
Futcher’s light, precise touches are evident throughout, particularly in the little moments of conversation – a pause, a glance; a response that is recognisable and completely human, however horrifying to some of us – and in the flow of the plot, despite dramatic beat changes, punctuated and highlighted by light and sound (Jason Glenwright and Guy Webster), that make us stop and think (out loud, on more than one occasion, enthusiastic front rowers!), “WOW!” These guys really get it. In fact, in each of shake and stir’s mainstage productions (Animal Farm and 1984 preceded Tequila Mockingbird), I’ve wondered whether or not they are selling themselves short by focusing on education instead of world tours (in fact, I’ve asked them about it!), but HOLD ON. STOP. WAIT JUST A GODAMN COTTON-PICKING MINUTE.
How lucky are we that this company focuses on education, and on getting it right for students and teachers?! AND IN JUST FOUR WEEKS?! I know, that’s impressive too, right? The secret? Look, I don’t know, I’ll ask them next time we talk. Maybe they don’t actually sleep. But they are also OLD THEATRE SOULS in new, agile, energetic bodies and minds that can’t stop because they LOVE IT. We see that quite clearly, which makes it a joy to experience anything they do. You think I’m raving? Damn right! Have you booked your tix yet?
Beneath the towering paper walled set, we are introduced to some teeny tiny characters – Australian not American – all running from something, but only to begin with. They grow and seem to fill the space…until a violent street verdict makes a mockery of the jury’s decision and what was considered a fair trial for an Indian doctor, new to town, accused of assaulting a young girl, and they disappear again. A blatant Bundaberg reference, thrown neatly into the doctor’s opening lines, gets a few gasps and we realise that with this production these guys are here to do business. It’s not just a new take on To Kill A Mockingbird. It’s something else entirely.
Strong performances, and thankfully no stereotypes, and truly delightful in her wicked, trashy ways, was Barb Lowing, like Disney’s stepmother to Rapunzel in Tangled, all bark and all bite. Mother knows best? Terrifying! To balance this dastardly character, and prove once again her versatility and formidable talent (yes, remember you were blown away – but not surprised – by Lowing’s masterful performance in The China Incident?), she draws out two other contrasting characters, the self-righteous neighbour, and the friendly kitchen-fail publican. I always remind students to take note of Lowing’s performances; she’s all class, even when her characters are anything but!
Bryan Proberts takes on the Atticus Finch figure, a Sydney lawyer who’s dragged his son out of his Sydney school before he sells any more pot at school. Hang on, that sounds familiar! But here, on the Sunshine Coast, I guess the easier transfer was to Maroochydore SHS! Ha! Isn’t it great to reconnect with old friends on Facebook?! You know who you are! The son is Charlie, played by Nick Skubij (he also plays Dan, the non-committal mate who props up the pub’s counter), and their relationship is beautifully discovered. It’s a nice role for Skubij, who totally gets the bored teen and plays for long enough around the edges of it so that the maturity and strength of character we see towards the end comes as no surprise. It’s beautifully measured.
Ross Balbuziente gets gruff and grubby, as the recently retrenched outback bastard who shows us how not to treat a girl. He’s frightening and revolting, and entirely recognisable. And not just from a stint in Mt Isa. Nelle Lee is the victim in a relationship she is clearly at odds with; we feel like shouting to her, “GET OUT! GET OUT NOW! HE’S NO GOOD FOR YOU!” and Shannon Haegler the new doctor, in rough-as-guts Stanton (but sadly, it could be any Aussie outback town) that has, proudly and defiantly, only one type of rice. And that’s white.
There is nothing to fault in any of the performances, nor in the design, context or text itself, which I’d love to see on the page. Hello, Playlab? Tequila Mockingbird is indeed, “a new Australian play” in its best form, from our boldest, most confident young company. I hope you see it before
Election Day a-hem September 7.