Boy with the Rainbow Umbrella
Anywhere Festival & Coleman Grehan
19 Heath Street, East Brisbane
May 5 – 14 2016
Reviewed by Katy Cotter
In Queensland and New South Wales there is a law known as the Homosexual Advance Defence (HAD) – the American equivalent being the Gay Panic Defence. This is a legal loophole in the Criminal Code in s304 “Killing on Provocation,” and has existed since the 1990s. Because of the mandatory sentencing which accompanies murder charges, provocation is an important defence. The Queensland law, which was changed under the Newman government to ensure that words alone did not count to provocation, “unless exceptional circumstances exist,” an accused could claim they had experienced a temporary insanity after being overwhelmed by a homosexual advance. Queensland and New South Wales are the only two states in Australia yet to abolish this law.
Coleman Grehan’s new work Boy with the Rainbow Umbrella is inspired by a tragic story in Queensland’s history.
In 2010 a young man was bashed to death by two men in Maryborough. The men claimed they were provoked after the victim made an unwanted advance. At the trial, video footage showed no evidence of homosexual advances, and even though both men were imprisoned, neither was found guilty of murder.
It was closing night for this particular show and I’m so honoured that I made it. I arrived to find a group of about 15 people standing around in the garage of a house in East Brisbane. Anyone passing by must have thought it was a pretty awkward party had it not been for the Anywhere Festival banner standing on the footpath. Soon the audience was led into a downstairs bedroom where everything – from the wallpaper, to a lampshade, to a pair of shoes – was painted in black and white stripes. A young man (Jay, played by Nicholas Prior) who was utterly saturated, wearing a black and white turtleneck and dark trousers, followed us into the room and stared at the body of another young man (Adrian, played by Lachlan Smith), asleep on the bed. Lights flickered and an eerie soundscape brought a claustrophobic tension into the room. The bedroom was so small and the audience was crammed in like sardines that every breath and shift of weight could be heard. One of the things I must mention about Grehan’s work is that he is always hyper-sensitive of what his audience is feeling and experiencing. More often than not people pay little attention to a piece of sound; they just let it wash over them. The soundscape for this show was understated yet crucial in creating atmosphere and highlighting important shifts. Ugh, I loved it!
During the next hour, a dark secret is revealed and questions about masculinity arise.
The two characters talk about their differences, their lives and how certain expectations are placed upon them. They talk about how society views them and brands them with specific labels and stereotypes. The dialogue is balanced beautifully with meaningful conversation and hilarious banter. A magnetic chemistry existed between Prior and Smith that allowed me to completely forget where I was and to be enthralled and engaged in the storytelling. And this is such an important story to tell. I was sitting right in front of Smith at one point, as if he was confessing his secrets to me alone, and I thought how special and rare these moments in theatre are.
Coleman Grehan and his team are fearless, creating work to promote change.
Anywhere Festival has served up some exceptional work this year.