Posts Tagged ‘caroline dunphy

07
Sep
18

Rovers

 

Rovers

Belloo Creative

Maleny Community Centre

Sunday August 26 2018

 

Next:

Brisbane Festival

Theatre Republic

September 11 – 15 2018

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

RECOMMENDED FOR

 

STRONG FEMALE LEAD

 

BECAUSE YOU WATCHED

 

How do you select what to watch? Without the Netflix prompts, do you consider the poster and PR for a live show, or the recommendation in print or online media, word of mouth or social media whispers? Do you follow the performers, the directors, the production company? What about all of the above? Belloo Creative’s Rovers featuring Roxanne McDonald and Barbara Lowing, written by Katherine Lyall-Watson and directed by Caroline Dunphy, looks to be one of the highlights of Brisbane Festival’s Theatre Republic this year. But don’t take my word for it, see for yourself. I saw it in its simplest form first, on a Sunday afternoon in Maleny, an inspired inclusion in Maleny Winter Theatre Festival within Horizon Festival.

 

 

Australia breeds its women tough – and adventurous.

 

What an absolute joy it is to see these theatre doyennes, Roxanne McDonald and Barbara Lowing, together again on stage after more than twenty years apart. Accomplished performers, completely at ease with each other and with their audience, McDonald and Lowing offer in Rovers a performance masterclass (a life masterclass, really) for re-emerged and submerged artists everywhere, and for Australians of all ages. 

 

 

You don’t need to be in the biz to appreciate that this all-female company holds a firm place now in the Australian theatrical ecosystem. Having been brought on board by Queensland Theatre as Resident Company for 2019 and with a string of award winning original productions behind them, including Sand, Hanako and Motherland, Belloo is one of our boldest, bravest, most original and transparent mouthpieces. 

 

The impetus for the creation of this rollicking storytelling adventure, the reunion on stage of two top performers, means much merriment of the meta variety as we’re let in on a few of the secrets of theatrical careers that have spanned decades. A couple of lifetimes of uncertainty in the arts, and self-realisation and determination applied in equal measure to artistic and everyday pursuits blur with the groundbreaking adventures of elders: the older and maybe wiser, maybe wilder – but not, not really, in so many ways – trailblazing women. Combining intriguing details and vivid characters creates a number of crossovers, in time and context, in a sophisticated storytelling style continually being honed by writer, Katherine Lyall-Watson (Sand, Hanako, Motherland).

 

 

 

Fascinating and often very funny outback tales, neatly shared using minimalist, multipurpose set pieces and props, are woven between real life fourth-wall-torn-down moments, challenging our expectations of the contemporary live theatrical experience, without any AV or…oh, wait a minute. There’s a haunting segment involving AV that will leave you either wanting more of it, or none of it. I’m undecided about it. I forgot to ask the girls about it. I need to see it again during Brisbane Festival with all the bells and whistles. Other than this short, dark break in the regular programming, Dunphy resists creating superfluous imagery, allowing in the most economical way the stories and connections – to the land and to spirit, each woman to the other and each to herself – to become clear through the simplest narrative device, the women switching between actor-characters and multiple story characters. With a hat or a scarf or a flourish they become the women who have inspired them, whose memories have sustained them in difficult times and driven them to succeed in so many areas in life. A series of engaging and entertaining vignettes is sensitively woven together by the wondering and whimsy of McDonald and Lowing in real life, sort of, under the playfully presented premise of our attendance at a wake, which is not a sad affair you understand, but a celebration.

 

 

 

It all seems rather relaxed and raw, and what a pleasure that is to be a part of! The form is so intimate, the theatrical tone swinging between a kind of nonchalance and rather grand, unapologetically indulgent drama. We feel embraced by the women, caught up in a big warm hug, gently and firmly reminding us that we have our bloodlines and our stories too, and don’t forget them! And don’t forget to tell them. 

 

Rovers is a sincere and completely charming, beautifully measured look at the strength and spirit of women trailblazers, a celebration of the sisterhood in its truest sense, pre-memes and inspirational quotes. At the same time, this is a show that manages to hold space for those we’ve lost and also, those parts of ourselves that we may have lost touch with from time to time. In the pauses there’s a sense of stretched time and open space, the quiet vastness of this country…of our hearts…and then it’s gone. The ephemeral nature of theatre. 

 

The stories that are meant for us somehow find us, don’t they? And the tales we’re meant to tell eventually find their way to the surface to be shared. In this is the essence of Rovers, a thoughtfully curated collection of the stories these women were always meant to share. Universal personal stories of strength, sadness, resilience, celebration, fear, grief, love, loss, legacy, memory and mad MacGyver survival skills… and always, the sweetest sense of stopping and breathing – really stopping and breathing – to recognise and appreciate everything we have to gain by sharing our experiences, and everything we might have forgotten we already had. 

 

 

25
Apr
16

Motherland

 

Motherland

Queensland Theatre Company

Bille Brown Studio

April 22 – 30 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

QTC_MOTHERLAND_event

Based in fact, the epic and intimate Motherland intertwines the sweeping stories of three very different women from different times, united in the heartache of exile from their homelands.

From the chaos of a Russian military coup, through the hell of Nazi-occupied France to a turbulent Brisbane in the throes of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, Brisbane playwright Katherine Lyall-Watson has penned a painstakingly researched historical drama about how world-changing events can ripple out and take a terrible toll on everyday lives.

Motherland was first produced by Metro Arts and Ellen Belloo at the Sue Benner Theatre, Brisbane on 30 October, 2013.

Motherland is a sweeping family saga, shifting across time and oceans to bring us three richly textured stories that make our hearts sigh and sing.

If you haven’t seen Motherland, you’ve missed a bold step forward in the shaping of Australia’s theatrical landscape. The sophistication and complexity of its storytelling, and a strong, clear narrative voice gives a nod to our ‘post dramatic’ writers, the likes of Tom Holloway and Daniel Keene.

Having seen the original production at Metro Arts, I miss the darkness and shadows and ambiguity of the first design, which you see in the trailer below (Annie Robertson is Associate Designer this time), but what I love about this version, reworked for QTC, is its clean, slick approach to the storytelling. Writer, Katherine Lyall-Watson, has sufficiently reworked the text to tell the tale without superfluous detail. Using slightly less text, each character is more fully formed than before, and each performer embodies their role with greater depth and empathy than before. Director, Caroline Dunphy, has sensitively and skillfully shaped this piece for a new audience.

Despite David Walters’ fine lighting, against Penny Challen’s squeaky clean all-white set I feel some of the original intimacy is lost, but we’re in the Bille Brown Studio now; it’s difficult to create a small space for a larger audience, and a larger, broader audience is what I wished for Motherland the first time.

Belloo Creative is a marvellous company of four talented and deeply connected women; their work is vital, bringing us stories we may never have known without them. And with the injection of state theatre company funds and a safe, supportive environment, this quietly determined indie company has had the opportunity to stretch their legs. And now we see they’re in for the long run.

The actors are poised to tell a story from the outset, entering from out of the initial darkness and stoically taking their places in the light to the beat of Piaf’s swirling, stirring “padum padum padum”. They never leave the space; everyone is in the story all of the time. And it takes several minutes to establish each story, and for us to focus and settle into each era, and its characters and their accents. The slower pace at the outset is likely deliberate, to allow our ears and eyes to adjust. We do so, quickly becoming immersed in the interwoven stories, the seamless transitions made all the more effective by the old world elegance of Dane Alexander’s cinematic underscore.

motherland

One of my favourite Queensland performers, especially after sharing the stage with her during GAYBIES, Barbara Lowing, is Nina, the 90-year old Russian writer; hot tempered, outspoken and often in trouble for speaking her mind…and her fierce heart. Lowing gives a gutsy, beautifully measured performance, taking this thick-skinned, complex character into a grey and gentle space between oppression and self realisation. Nina cares for Slav for years (he’s a weak, sickly, petulant poet) until she can do so no longer, finding freedom in independence. But is it the freedom she’s yearned for?

There’s something fantastic and liberating about playing such a flawed character and Lowing sinks her teeth into this woman whilst retaining a devastating vulnerability. It’s a superb performance; we are transfixed.

Daniel Murphy brings to life both Slav and the boy, Sasha, both difficult and dangerous roles for an actor, with the temptation to overact ever-present. But Slav is as irritating and as brilliant as any self-destructive artist, and the boy like any other boy, uprooted and displaced without a common language or a circle of friends to help him fit in. Murphy perfectly channels the young boy’s mistrust, his discontent and ultimately, his love for his mother.

The inner conflict and sheer strength of every mother is captured more confidently than before by Rebecca Riggs as Alonya, the “lioness”. Riggs has discovered something more to this role and offers a richly informed performance (her warmth emanates fully in the final moments of the play). She falls in love with an Australian businessman and his promise of a place of refuge for her and her son, a new motherland down under, as well as a visit home to Moscow each year. It all seems too good to be true…

motherland_Kerith Atkinson

Peter Cossar (Chris/Kerensky) has sharpened the Russian accent and let loose on the Aussie twang. The dinner scene, in which we witness both his characters occupying one chair, was the first to be written by Lyall-Watson, and its skilful shape and pace is testament to the success of the connection here between writer, director and actor. The staging is simple, with Cossar seated between Riggs as Alonya and Kerith Atkinson as the Australian journalist, Nell, who seeks the hand of Kerensky. The seamless transition of characters and the clarity of the overlapping, interwoven stories, due largely to Cossar’s ability to switch between his two roles, is outstanding. I’ve not seen more solid or more confident work from Cossar.

motherland_Barbara Lowing and Kerith Atkinson

Atkinson’s Nell is almost a duel role in itself, as she convinces herself of the life she feels she must lead until her death gives us cause to ponder the connection between self-denial and self-inflicted emotional pain, and the slow demise that comes with chronic illness. Atkinson’s vocal work is precise and her characterisation is vibrant and energetic, wilful and wonderful, making the news of Nell’s passing all the more moving.

Nina’s final words are more fitting than before, simpler and less flowery, reflecting the overall tone of the reworked text, which is sharper and clearer. It’s the truth and tone of the piece now, more than any massive rewrites (although the writer may correct me on that point!) that makes Motherland a defining work, bringing our focus back, again and again, to the incalculable value of our own stories. 

The re-writing process fascinates me, and I know it started at Metro Arts, with audience feedback offered directly to Lyall-Watson as writer/usher at the time. I understand that audience members had no idea she was the writer, so offered their thoughts freely on their way out the door; a fantastic opportunity for a writer, to gain insight from the immediate and emotional response from audience members and actors. Lyall-Watson has no doubt spoken on this, but I particularly remember reading what Matthew Ryan had noted about being in the room with the actors for the first reading of his seminal work, Brisbane:

“It never fails to surprise me the difference that a reading can make. You can convince yourself 100% that your script works. But until you have actors saying the lines you’re not really hearing the play. You’re just hearing (in your own head) what you hope it is.

I make a point of not looking at my script at a reading. I watch the actors. I already know what’s on the page. It doesn’t interest me. The best lessons are on actors’ faces and in their eyes. When they connect with each other. When they struggle. A good actor is the writer’s best friend. They will give it their all and tell you what they struggled with. I always try to get the most opinionated actors. The ones who won’t just accept what I’ve done but challenge me with questions and observations of where it fell short. They are in the moment and can often feel the bumps better than I can.

The reading of BRISBANE was a real eye-opener around the structure. What I thought would resonate didn’t. What I didn’t care that much about was bouncing off the walls. The first Act needs a polish but the second Act needs to be completely re-written. Before the reading I was sure it was fine. I was sure it all worked. Now I know how far I have to go. You can never tell the geography until you send out the scouts to see for themselves. If you’re smart, you listen to what they found out there.”

motherland_barblowing

Motherland’s director, Caroline Dunphy, has caressed this text and coaxed this cast out of their original raw performances into another realm altogether, facilitating closer connections and new resolutions within more naturalistic performances. (I imagine this company must have become closer than most; we feel such genuine history in the relationships and we retain such hope for each individual’s future). Dunphy’s talent is this emotional precision: her attention to the delicate detail of each individual in each relationship, though her gift might masquerade as merely* the competent manipulation of the elements and the actors in the space. She’s very humble, and what we see is that there is so little, and yet so much of her in this production… What a beautiful thing for a director to be able to claim.

*As we appreciate, directing is no easy task; there’s really no “merely” about it, but still…

motherland_Barbara Lowing

These stories will make you curious about your own… And just imagine if you could have your family’s stories told. Would you not want that history to remain this intriguing, and shared this respectfully, this lovingly?

Motherland is the most beautifully crafted and intelligently delivered story you’ll see on stage this year. Its passion and fierce beauty will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.

And once you’ve lived through it you might like to read it. I forgot to pick up a copy of the updated text but I’ll be back at the Bille Brown next month to see Andrea Moor & Matthew Backer in Joanna Murray Smith’s SwitzerlandIf you have time to read Motherland before then, get your copy from Playlab. And if you’ll miss seeing it in Brisbane, book now and catch the production at a venue near you. You’ll be a richer person for it.

2016 TOUR DATES:

Queensland Theatre Company, Brisbane (April 20 – 30)

Maleny Community Centre (May 4) + meet the cast for drinks on the deck

The Arts Centre Gold Coast (May 6 – 7)

Ipswich Civic Theatre (May 11)

Redland Performing Arts Centre (May 12)

Gladstone Entertainment Centre (May 14)

Glen Street Theatre, Sydney (May 17 – 22)

Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre (May 25 – 28)

17
Dec
15

I Want To Know What Love Is

 

loveis_fbheader

 

 

I Want To Know What Love Is

A QTC & The Good Room Production

Brisbane Powerhouse

Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre

December 16 – 19 2015

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

THIS IS FOR YOU

812 anonymous love stories. 500,000 rose petals. 60 minutes of pashing and dashing on a rose-strewn rollercoaster ride through love’s loopy terrain. A joyous and heartbreaking trip inside the throbbing theatrical party of the year!

 

BPH_2015_I_Want_To_Know_What_Love_Is1-1180x663

 

 

I love this show. I love its heart. I love its guts.

 

 

I love the way it begins so innocently, so beautifully simply and comically, and then worms its way into your soul only to shred each one of us into little itty bitty pieces using our own memories, drawing on the experiences that didn’t kill us but made us stronger. Finding that one true love, missing the one chance with that random stranger and having your heart (and maybe other parts of your body) broken multiple times by a massive cunt, before covering our world in rose petals and reminding us that we are in fact LOVED.

The formula is simple, but the complexity is thrilling and the overall effect makes I Want To Know What Love Is the purest, most joyous and heartfelt theatrical production of the year. Again.

The opening sequence shares the bright white light of an iPhone torch piercing the darkness and the sound of self conscious breathing. Quick, uncertain steps patter across the space and someone sets up a standing mic. A spotlight reveals Tom Cossettini, delightful once again. He treats us to an increasingly confident rendition of Young and Beautiful. A deliberately strained and stilted voice becomes rich in tone and cheeky with brazen confidence as he serenades an audience member lit by an unexpected special beneath a cascade of rose petals. This is the first of many joyous moments, a red herring prelude to a darker, more disturbing segment.

loveis_703

It’s a startling mood change – and I knew it was coming – with Cossettini joined by Caroline Dunphy and Amy Ingram, demonstrating all the playfulness, competitiveness and polite turn-taking of every configuration of a relationship before it ends bad. And then it ends bad.

Margi Brown Ash brings new energy and a completely different quality to the production. Where Carol Burns approached much of the original material with her quiet, elegant reserve, Margi Brown Ash attacks it with unique vigour and wide eyed, full throttle, devilish delight. Each actor in this small company has discovered the delicacy of the more sensitive submissions and they treat the tales with the utmost respect, while giving some of the other anonymous stories the spectacularly sordid treatment they deserve, all for our entertainment and amusement, and for theirs, I’m sure. There’s certainly a voyeuristic aspect, and a number of times when some of us would like to leap over the seats to join the performers, in the riot of rose petals and splendour and grit and goodness and LOVE. What? Just me?

BPH_2015_I_Want_To_Know_What_Love_Is2-1180x663

Icona Pop’s cute and angry I Don’t Care underscores the sweeping and leaf-blowing of petals out of the way as if they’re shattered pieces of each heart, pieces of each person, which we offer to another and demand to have returned to us once the thing is over. Then there are the pieces a lover – or abuser – takes forcefully away from us. These pieces are carried away the moment the wind changes, or stuffed cruelly into a pocket so no one else can ever have them.

How do we put ourselves together again when some of the pieces are gone forever?

loveis_523

Against a brilliant pulsing heartbeat of a soundtrack (the lifeblood of the show) by Lawrence English, Jason Glenwright’s lighting perfectly complements Kieran Swann’s design, creating many moods within a splendid setting. It’s a Catherine Martin styled American Beauty fantasy sans the tub, the nakedness and the convenient petal placement, although none of those elements would be out of place here. There are many more petals used this time. Masses and masses of them, thousands in fact, fluttering down from above, then teeming like rain, and then released from yellow plastic bags and scattered joyfully across the space. With great passion and fury they’re later pushed and swept and kicked and tossed into the air, poured over the actors, almost smothering them, just as any great…and terrible…love will do.

This is theatre as therapy, almost cathartic, leading everyone into themselves and along their own (don’t say it!) … JOURNEY. THERE. I SAID IT.

The stories are ours…well, the stories are yours. If you submitted your story online we got a glimpse of your life, your love… Johnny BalbuzienteIt’s an intimate show, perhaps in some ways better suited to the smaller, more intimate space of the original studio. But it’s become a bigger, slicker operation in the powerhouse theatre (“The Lovebox”), allowing a greater number of people to see it (and see it again!). How lucky are we? This is a company with a LOT of love to give!

Cancel everything and go see I Want To Know What Love Is.

loveis_60

This show is an editorial and directorial gem, collating so many moments of so many lives that I imagine it would be possible to create a dozen or more episodes using the stash of unused material. Perhaps we’ll see a YouTube series yet, or a never-ending series of books in the style of WOL. But don’t wait for those! Director, Daniel Evans is a busy, busy guy!

THIS IS A PASH AND DASH AFFAIR

– DANIEL EVANS

Your best chance to experience the real-life equivalent of Love Actually this festive season is to see I Want To Know What Love Is before it finishes this weekend.

09
Sep
14

I Want To Know What Love Is

 

brisbanefestival2014

iwanttoknowwhatloveis

 

I Want to Know What Love Is

QTC & The Good Room

Bille Brown Studio

September 4 – 19 2014

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward 

 

CHECK BACK BEFORE THE END OF THE WEEK FOR GORGEOUS IMAGES

 

“Perhaps we are in this world to search for love, find it and lose it, again and again. With each love, we are born anew, and with each love that ends we collect a new wound. I am covered with proud scars.”

Isobelle Allende

 

We are a combination of a thousand different experiences (especially when it comes to love).

Deviser/Director, Daniel Evans

 

 

Everyone is here. Wesley is playing the role of Glassy and the foyer fills quickly around him with the chatter and laughter of friends, and the clink of glasses and the clatter of heels. I contribute to the clinking and clattering and chattering. I feel like I haven’t seen everyone for such a long time! This is the tribe I know and love! We’ve strolled across the road from Brisbane Writers Festival, where I’ve been hanging with a different tribe and hearing about how challenging it is to get published and get noticed, how courageous one must be to write, and how disciplined. I Want to Know What Love Is is a cleverly devised show, using the written submissions of the general public… YOU. You are the writers! But by giving this glorious little show such a short season within the Brisbane Festival program (it runs for this week only), I feel like QTC is challenging us to demand its return.

 

Dear QTC,

 

 

We all adored I Want to Know What Love Is.

 

 

PLEASE BRING IT BACK!

 

 

Cheers. x

 

So it’s a proper Opening Night, with all the bells and whistles (and all the red roses and pink champagne in the world), and all the Industry friends. It feels GOOD. It feels good like it must be the work of THE GOOD ROOM. We know we can trust this collective of creative heads and hearts to entertain us, to challenge us, and to make us leave wanting more. There’s no deprivation about it, in fact our hearts are full…we want more of THAT.

 

I knew this show would be gorgeous (I was told it would be gorgeous) but I wasn’t prepared for so much of the gorgeousness to be done and dusted before the half way mark. The pure joy of an early succession of exuberant scenes concludes with what I can only presume, is the end of the honeymoon period of the show. We’re left hanging in darkness, in some undefined sad sort of state. I guess it feels like loss. The shock of love gone. Yeah, you know it. The honeymoon period is over, man.

 

I spoke with Carol Burns after the show about the dramatic mood change; it’s a distinct beat, unmistakably sad; you can’t miss it. I assured Carol that it could be felt! Indeed, it’s a rare thing in the theatre, to feel so strongly, a collective response to a single beat. I joke that I recognise that beat, the turning point in a relationship after the cascades of rose petals have finished raining down and the kisses have stopped meeting you at the door and the fights start about who’ll take out the rubbish. After the extreme highs come the devastating lows. Or, day after day, the plain ordinary. Or, the break up.

 

It’s a tumultuous journey and no one apologises for the rough bits. We spend just as long as we need to, wallowing, relating, remembering, and commiserating… There are uncomfortable titters from time to time because REALNESS. RECONISABLE. RELATABLE. REALNESS. It’s not all bad; so much of the show is very funny and very moving. I Want to Know What Love Is tastes like a fistful of sticky, sugary, virtual cotton candy goodness, with a bit of harsh reality thrown in.

 

The stories come from the community. Over eight hundred randoms submitted their stories online via the specially built website wewantyourlove.com

 

wewantyourlove

 

It’s the sort of verbatim theatre I love – not too verbatim – the words are painted in full colour, with layers upon layers of meaning between them and the canvas, the picture almost certainly improving on the telling of the tales. No offence, to you, the writers. Sometimes, the simpler the story, the greater the effect, as when there are no words and we are left to fill in the gaps; an awesome little device. The stories we hear range from love at first sight, I’ll love you forever, happily ever after tales to devastating blame games, plots for revenge and guilt-ridden admissions. Wow, we actually begin to feel like we know these people. We think perhaps we are these people. Not so random after all.

 

New work needs time and it needs space and it needs trust.

Amy Ingram

 

We know Amy Ingram’s comedy is excellent, and this production allows her a little tragedy too. It’s clearer, and sadder than ever before. Carol Burns, Caroline Dunphy and eighteen year old Tom Cossattini in his QTC debut, also manage to get the tone exactly right, seemingly effortlessly, taking us on a rollercoaster ride that starts out naively and joyously and finishes with sass and stubborn, glassy-eyed glimmering hope, in spite of the tumult and ugliness along the way. In this way, the show’s structure cruelly and accurately reflects the usual pattern of relationships. We still haven’t come to terms with the life-death-life cycle, have we?

 

Daniel Evans, not only a published writer and Premier’s Drama Award winning playwright (his work, Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, will be staged by QTC in 2015), is the sort of director who creates work you wish other directors would see. If they did so, perhaps we wouldn’t have to suffer through so much earnest work. Just saying.

What Dan does, with co-devisor, Lauren Clelland on board this time, is take a story, offer it to his actors, and with their help, he passes the story on to us. Dan’s a custodian of stories.

 

DanielEvans_theweekendedition

 

Kieran Swann’s design is nothing less than stunning. He’s humble, paying homage to Feliz Gonzalez-Torres, Tracey Emin and Jenny Holzer in his notes, but what Swann does, just as Evans does, is create worlds that we can’t wait to step into. The simple images of flowers and garbage bags may have come from the punters but it’s Swann who’s conjured the delicate-bold lush effect they make on stage. Lights by Jason Glenwright and soundtrack by Lawrence English support the pace of the production and punctuate the stories, offering us time to breathe and no time at all. A bit like life.

 

What’s incredible about this production is that a very basic idea has been executed in the most effective way when it could easily have ended up a disaster; a shoddy, tacky, nauseating and seriously awkward and embarrassing high school collage drama. It is none of these things.

 

I Want To Know What Love Is is elegant, sophisticated, heartfelt, inspiring and uplifting; it’s delicious festival fodder. It’s original, beautiful and unfortunately, it will disappear after this week…or will it?

Go now, just in case. You don’t want to miss this. It’s gorgeous theatre.

 

iwanttoknowwhatloveis_xantheianjessicabianca

 

04
Nov
13

Motherland

 

Motherland

Ellen Belloo & Metro Arts

Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre

30 October – 16 November 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

barblowing_motherland

 

Three women, exiled from their homelands, find their stories are woven together across continents and decades. Nell Tritton, the Brisbane wife of a deposed Russian prime minister, forms a close friendship with Nina Berberova, who is exiled in Paris. The woman who would tell their story is Alyona, a Russian curator who finds her dreams of a new Australian paradise crushed by bankruptcy and the Fitzgerald Inquiry. 

 

Katherine Lyall-Watson’s Motherland is fascinating, engaging, intriguing, compelling, gripping and incredibly moving. This is a most intelligent, and beautifully shared story; it’s so sweet and subtle, yet the subject matter runs deep. Motherland is the most elegant, most sophisticated theatrical work we’ve seen in Brisbane in years, and it’s worthy of a main stage season inclusion not just here but anywhere in the world.

 

The result of four years of research and writing, and shortlisted this year for the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, Motherland has enjoyed a print run by Playlab to coincide with the inaugural season at Metro Arts and it’s available to purchase online as well as at the venue.

 

It all begins at Pizza Hut, in Moscow. This is not where the play begins but it’s where this production – the first fully staged production after a reading in June this year – really takes off in terms of its storytelling. Everything becomes clear when a young boy (played by a grown man, Daniel Murphy) is left alone by his mother (Rebecca Riggs), while she goes to defend the barricades around Echo Moscow in the midst of the military coup of 1991. She returns to him and takes him to Brisbane with an Australian man (Peter Cossar), who promises they will return every year to their beloved Moscow.

 

The first five minutes are challenging, like Brisbane’s storm season, suddenly upon us last week, the light changing, the air thickening, and rain threatening to stop us in our tracks… But just like a Shakespearean text, or an Ancient Greek script, our ears and minds and hearts soon become attuned to the language and to the theatrical devices used specifically to tell this epic story.

 

motherland_set

All time and no time, KERENSKY makes a speech to adoring thousands, NINA remembers, NELL dreams, ALONYA recites part of a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva and KHODASEVICH comments on the action.

CEO of Metro Arts, Liz Burcham, joked that the word ‘epic’ would be the one most used at the after party and she was right. In all senses of the word, Motherland is epic, a massive story, told over decades that weave together the real and imagined events of people’s lives during a revolution, two world wars and the Fitzgerald Inquiry. I know! It sounds impossible! Katherine has not only tied these events together, she has drawn characters of such warmth and depth that by the end of the 95-minute play we feel like we’ve known about them forever.

 

These intriguing characters move effortlessly between time and space, and there’s not a DeLorean in sight. As the story twists and turns, becoming more and more complex, incredibly, it begins to make more sense. I’ve heard a number of productions described as “rich tapestries” and here is one that rightly deserves to be known as such.

 
Motherland’s cast comes with vast knowledge and rich experience. Katherine says they are a “dream team”. They are

 

Kerith Atkinson – Nell

 

Peter Cossar – Kerensky / Chris

 

Barbara Lowing – Nina

 

Daniel Murphy – Khodasevich / Sasha

 

Rebecca Riggs – Alonya

 

I don’t want to single anybody out because I enjoyed each and every performance, the believability of relationships reliant on the truth of each role, and implicit trust established between the performers during the process. As a result of the creative team’s commitment to storytelling and their attention to detail, we miss nothing. I love the choice to employ accents only when speaking outside of the characters’ most intimate circle (a device that others have tried – and failed – to employ successfully), and I feel these actors give us the full gamut of emotions, wrapped up in the intimacy of lives that we had previously known nothing about. Props and set pieces (within a stark design by Annie Robertson, lit beautifully by David Walters), other than the hanging white frames, seem unnecessary and somewhat untidy, but this is a minor quibble and will matter not a wit to others.

 

kiss_motherland

 

Despite losing a little of its pace and power almost three-quarters of the way through, Motherland begins with a bang, moves swiftly, succinctly, and ends so sensitively you’ll wonder where the time went and why you’re suddenly feeling utterly emotionally and mentally exhausted. The final image is one of power, beauty, and possibility. In the same moment it fills us with a deep sadness, and pure joy.

Dunphy’s inspired direction is faultless; it’s an intelligent and sensitive reading, gifting us with Lyall-Watson’s rich, concise words. Motherland marks the beginning of a new era of Australian playwriting, if only there are writers bold enough to follow in Lyall-Watson’s footsteps.

30
Oct
13

Motherland opens at Metro Arts tonight!

 

Three women, exiled from their homelands, find their lives are woven together across continents and decades…

 

motherland

 

Shortlisted  for  the  2013  Patrick  White  Playwrights’  Award,  Katherine  Lyall-­‐Watson’s  play Motherland  heads  for   the  stage  with  emerging  director,  Caroline  Dunphy,  and  a  stellar  cast  including  Barbara  Lowing,  Kerith  Atkinson,   Rebecca  Riggs,  Peter  Cossar  and  Daniel  Murphy.  Metro  Arts’  Season  of  the  Independents  presents  this  epic  story,   which  spans  the  twentieth  century,  World  War  and  the  Russian  Revolution.

 

Motherland  is  a  story  about  three  remarkable  real  women:  there’s  Nell  Tritton,  of  Brisbane’s  Tritton  furniture   emporium,  who  married  Russia’s  deposed  Prime  Minister,  Alexander  Kerensky,  and  helped  him  escape  from  the   Nazis  in  the  Second  World  War;  there’s  Nina  Berberova,  a  Russian  writer  living  in  exile  in  Paris  with  her  lover,  the   poet  Vladislav  Khodasevich;  and  there’s  Alyona,  a  Russian  museum  curator  stuck  in  Brisbane  at  the  height  of  the   Fitzgerald  Inquiry  when  her  Australian  husband’s  business  goes  bankrupt.

 

The  three  stories  are  woven  together  into  a  rich  tapestry  that  plays  with  history,  as  it  reveals  the  price  of  betrayal   and  the  lure  of  forbidden  love.

 

After  four  years  of  research  and  writing,  Katherine  Lyall-­‐Watson  is  still  just  as  intrigued  by  the  real  people  at  the   heart  of  the  play  as  she  was  on  the  day  she  started  writing.  “The  best  and  worst  thing  about  researching  history,”   she  says,  “is  that  it’s  never  finished.  It’s  been  four  years  and  Nell  is  still  an  enigma.  Her  family  helped  shape   Brisbane  and  her  life  was  extraordinary,  but  history  has  forgotten  her.  Writing  Motherland  has  been  a  way  to   bring  her  back  to  life  and  to  re-­‐imagine  some  of  the  moments  that  defined  her.”

 

Timeframes  and  locations  collide  and  interweave  as  the  actors  play  multiple  characters  in  this  fast-­‐paced  and   passionate  90-­‐minute  theatrical  depiction  of  true  stories.  Caroline  Dunphy’s  direction  brings  rigour  and  fierceness   to  this  contemporary  staging.

 

Metro  Arts  is  proud  to  present  the  premiere  production  of  Motherland.  Liz  Burcham,  CEO  of  Metro  Arts  says,   “Katherine  Lyall-­‐Watson  is  an  extremely  proficient  playwright  and  we  are  honoured  to  co-­‐present  the  very  first   production  of  her  writings.  Her  plays  need  to  be  seen.” Book here.

 

Motherland