Posts Tagged ‘leah mercer





QTC & Force of Circumstance

Diane Cilento Studio, The Greenhouse

July 14 – 25 2015


Reviewed by Katelyn Panagiris





Presented by Queensland Theatre Company and produced by Force of Circumstance, HOME is a rich, poignant and honest exploration of what home means. It has a pure intent to include the audience completely in this exploration, resulting in an experience that is evocative and deeply personal.



HOME is a journey across time and space that takes us to New York, Sydney, Brisbane, Texas and Egypt, encompassing everything from acceptance to growing up, family, love and ultimately, belonging. What emerges is a tapestry of stories from Margi Brown Ash’s own life that are intricately woven together by director Leah Mercer and powerfully performed by Margi Brown Ash and her son, Travis Ash.


We are told from the start of the performance that we are not one self but many across a lifetime. As a young person I find this prospect comforting and exciting, and I am reminded of George Bernard Shaw’s quote, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Over the course of the play, Margi Brown Ash recreates herself over and over again: we see ‘Margi the Teenager’, ‘Margi the Mother’, ‘Margi the Actor’ and so on. Her performance is honest and magnetic, quite literally drawing audience members on stage with her to assume several roles within the play. Travis Ash’s performance as a storyteller is equally kind and generous and he gives voice to those from across the world with a fundamentally different experience of home.


In fact, warmth permeates through every element of this production.


Bev Jensen’s design creates an open and malleable space that contains reminders of the comforts of home, and the combination of Ben Hughes’ lighting design and Travis Ash’s composition is highly evocative. Moreover, the interaction of AV, lighting, set and costume design allows for endless opportunities for clever play throughout the performance.


HOME is comprised of many playful, familiar moments – such as the chaotic dinner table with newly proclaimed vegetarian teenager – alongside moments that are unfamiliar and distant from my own life. In particular, the story of a Palestinian man whose home is destroyed by the Israeli military is insightful and a moving reminder that I belong not only to Australia, but to a global community responsible for the safety and belonging of all.


After all, “your story is my story”.


HOME is a unique and special experience that connects artist and audience; past, present and future, and the many homes that we inhabit throughout our lives. The true power of HOME lays in its ability to awaken individual stories so that it is almost impossible to talk about this performance without talking about one’s own sense of home. HOME plays at QTC’s newly named Diane Cilento Studio until July 25. It’s a performance not to be missed.






La Boite Indie & The Nest Ensemble

The Roundhouse

18th July – 28th July 2012

Dear Margi,

I just wanted to write and let you know how much I enjoyed the show last night. What a beautiful, beautiful gift you have given us. Thank you for sharing it with us. I know, it’s funny; usually I would simply post a review online but I decided to write you a letter, since I never wrote my letter to a random stranger after the last La Boite Indie production (it was Sarah Winter’s A Dinner with Gravity did you get to it?). Also, it seemed a more personal response to suit the nature of such an intimate show. You don’t have to reply, by the way, but if you’d like to play – and I know that you like to play – I expect I’ll be hearing from you soon!

The most remarkable thing about HOME is that it is all you. We see Leah’s insightful eye, her light hand and her loving heart here and there and we acknowledge that Trav’s multiple roles are implicitly part of the many tales you tell (how talented they both are!) but the fact remains: every piece of this show is you. How proud you must be. I have to tell you, I haven’t known you very long and we’ve never had the chance to work together (though I think we must!), yet the strange thing is I feel like we’ve known each other for a million years…well, at least thirty! It might have been in another life altogether because I think I know these stories. You were right. Your story is my story. Your stories are so familiar and yet… so unfamiliar. They happened and they didn’t happen. I remember and I don’t remember.

I remember sitting each afternoon, after school, with books and pencils spread out on the green laminate kitchen bench, threatening to take over Mum’s cooking space. Our kitchen always smelled of baking. She’d butter some Saladas and slice the cake she’d baked that day (chocolate cake or orange cake or – my favourite – plain butter cake) and I’d do my homework there, chatting about the day over afternoon tea and books and pencils. I told her the other day that Poppy does her homework at the kitchen bench while I bake and prepare the dinner. She doesn’t remember these afternoons, talking together like old friends. I remember.

I remember sitting up in Grandma and Grandpa’s bed, underneath piles of blankets before breakfast, with a proper cup of tea and a biccy – an Arnott’s break-a-finger biscuit – on the cold mornings when we would wake up there, during a visit to Toowoomba to see the relatives. I was little, maybe six, Poppy’s age. I could always smell Grandma’s stew cooking. I love Grandma’s stew. I used to write her letters. Real letters, hand written and with real photos and pressed flowers enclosed. She was so proud of me. She had a fall and was admitted to hospital on Wednesday night. I have Monday free to go visit her. I haven’t seen her for years. She probably won’t remember our mornings, with Roger the cat sitting at our feet. I remember.

I remember running wildly in the rain along Mooloolaba beach with my best friend, her bleached blonde hair streaming behind her as I sprinted past her and back again (I was really fast!), strands of her wet hair beginning to cling to her shoulders so she looked like a mermaid who’d just emerged from the water. She always looked like a mermaid. I always wanted to be a mermaid too. We ran and laughed and stumbled until we fell over each other and collapsed in the sand, in absolute hysterics, gasping for breath. I see my mermaid friend sometimes; a vision dancing in the water but I’m sure she’s actually overseas again, working. She might not remember these crazy days. I remember.

Margi Brown Ash HOME

HOME helps us remember. I remember and I don’t remember. At HOME, we are your special guests. Thank you for inviting us to share your stories, your memories and those of other people’s. When you enter the space everybody feels welcome. Your warmth is infectious and your joy contagious. Your delight is genuine and you are having as much fun as anybody else. Do you know what HOME is? It’s a tea ceremony. A very special, casual and surprisingly upbeat tea ceremony.

I love the way you embrace the audience. Leading them. Guiding them. Involving them. Sharing your applause with them. I’ve never heard such long, warm, appreciative applause! But you are so very generous and applause is our way of giving something back.

I ate up your original telling of the Isis and Osirus myth and then the throwbacks to it. The telling of it drew us in. You are a superb storyteller. The eating of words is such a simple, strange notion. You served up a great big, sumptuous feast of words – a degustation – story after story, in small amounts but giving us so many delectable dishes to sample. I’m full! I feel completely satiated.

Bev’s design is beautiful, her hand-carved Perspex set pieces and props lend a delicate, impermanent air, adding to the feeling that this is precious time, to be treasured. I think visitors to your HOME will be reminded that our time is, indeed, that precious. Perhaps they’ll start asking to hear the stories that are part of who they have become. We get so busy we forget to ask! We do something else instead of really listen! We are too busy. Who will tell the story?

Ben’s lighting is simply gorgeous, perfectly supporting the changes in mood rather than interrupting or distracting from your stories. He’s created sunrises and sunsets, the dawns and dusks of each tale. I’m glad there’s no real darkness in your show. Sometimes we need to forget the darkness and simply be reminded of the scope of the light.

I love the quotes you’ve woven throughout the show, visually and aurally; I love the singing bowl and Trav’s wide range of skills, especially his delivery of other people’s stories, used in such a way as to make us sit up and listen, refocus and remember how lucky we are, here in our home country. Here, home is whatever we desire it to be.

A little while ago (and again last night), you told me thank you for doing exactly what you have done yourself. Thank you for waking us up. Thank you, Margi, for your very special gift to us. Thank you for having us, for letting us in and sharing your HOME.



P.S. You can eat the chocolates…




the nest ensemble & Metro Arts Independents

Metro Arts’ Sue Benner Theatre

9th – 26th May

the nest ensemble’s EVE opened last night at Metro Arts and today the social media is all a-flutter over it!

EVE is a work of incredible passion, delving into the notions of obsession, genius and madness. It’s a fascinating, devastating story about an Australian writer who we like to call our own Virginia Woolf, one Eve Langley (1908 – 1974). It’s intense and even, at times, a little bit delightful. A rare show, it induces more than most, the magic of genuinely mixed emotions and a sense of bewilderment. Margi Brown Ash, who plays Eve as if she were never anybody other than she, is a tour de force. Allow me to put that term into context a little bit later.

As the five year old and I walked away from the theatre and up Edward Street, she told me that the play we’d just seen was, “strange and very frightening.” When I asked her if she thought Margi (Brown Ash) did a good job showing us how the writer, Eve Langley, went mad she replied, “Do I have to answer that? Of course she did! That’s what was so frightening!”

This morning, before the school run – some of you will think this is quite mad – as I consulted my Mayan Oracle Cards about how I might approach the writing of this review, I pulled the Spectral (Tone 11) card, which represents release and liberation, in terms of letting go of long-held beliefs and behavioural patterns.

Are you living your life on what it has been, instead of accepting the moment as it is now? Release yourself and others from the confines of expectation and inflexibility. Allow the grand plan to unfold in its beautifully perfect, chaotically random way!

In other words, what would Eve do?! This message is as much about the direction in which my life is going at the moment (that’s beautifully, chaotically and randomly, in case you were wondering!), as it is about viewing this show with a completely open mind and letting the events unfold in front of you, leaving judgment outside, which is what we always try to do at the theatre: we relinquish any control we thought we had to the storytellers. We trust them. We go with them on an incredible journey, in this case, much deeper into a troubled mind than we might feel comfortable going.

As Poppy and I continued walking away from the theatre and back to “reality”, right by RM Williams’ window in the Mall (I’d parked in the Wintergarden. Old habits die hard.), listening to a guy at the old Jimmy’s Downtown singing my favourite version ever, of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, we noticed the latest (very definitely non-RM Williams’ looking) design and I thought if I were going mad, I would wear those fancy RMs and not the sensible, round brown classic style, which Margi donned as Eve, refusing to tip-toe through her life in the blue Mountains.

The new RM Williams boots and bag #wishlist

We skipped along after that, singing and pushing away the thought of potential (inevitable?), madness of the writer. If your child is not accustomed to hanging out with the grown ups and seeing and talking theatre, I would recommend you book a babysitter. I’m grateful that Poppy’s favourite part turned out to be the re-telling by the enigmatic Stace Callaghan, of Oscar Wilde’s, The Selfish Giant, which was interwoven beautifully, helping the nightmarish outbursts from Margi and Moshlo (via voice and violin respectively) melt away that much more quickly.

Stace Callaghan – a beautiful, whimsical storyteller – gives generously, youth and all of its magical belief, innocence and hope. Moshlo, with his violin (and a broken string 20 minutes in) plays the devil incarnate, the husband, though his role is more musical than literal and I cannot imagine the soundscape (Design by Travis Ash) existing without his often-jarring compositions and superb execution. The play benefits enormously from his energy on stage.

Eve, like Wilde, was a brilliant writer. Norman Lindsay praised her debut novel, The Pea-Pickers (published in 1942), which won The Bulletin award. Even so, unlike Wilde, she attained comparatively little notoriety and died alone in her bush hut near Katoomba in 1974, after an upheaval rather than a life, during which she spent seven years in Auckland Mental Hospital (she had followed her mother there in 1932), was removed from her children and abandoned by her husband, an artist, Hilary Clark, who had committed her after he failed to continue coping with, among other things, her hermaphroditic ways and refusal to make his tea. As she observes during the final moments of the play, if she were alive today, no one would consider her mad, eccentric perhaps but not mad.

Co-devised by Margi Brown-Ash, Dan Evans and Leah Mercer, who stepped into the director’s shoes after original director, Doug Leonard sadly passed away late last year, the story is largely projection, inspired by Eve’s fiction and letters, of which we hear fragments. It’s nicely put together so that even knowing nothing about Eve Langley, you’ll feel like you know her before the conclusion of the play. And you will feel for her. Poor Eve. Her words are hard and sharp and, for the most part, completely unforgiving. Her warmth comes through only at the thought of stars and planets (until they fill her mouth and become the stuff of nightmares). She was a woman trapped in her own skin, unable to care for her own children and out of touch with “reality”. Eve’s reality consisted of days and nights of babies screaming and a husband who had to be told to shut up so she could write! Artists (and mothers) particularly, will relate to Eve’s pain and endless frustration. However, the chasm between normal disparities of roles (becoming the domestic help and wife and not the career woman) and entering into an actual state of madness is played out nicely so that only some of us (the writers!) are actually worried about suffering a similar fate in the end.

Genevieve Trace has gone straight to the top of my watch list with this show. I won’t give away the opening, which is a complete creative team accomplishment and a full assault on the senses (be ready!), but I will tell you that Gen’s evocative lighting design, working inherently with chunky intricate (I’m coining the phrase) set design by Backwoods Original and costumes by Bev Jensen, is something out of the pages of Frankie, inspired by some random European style magazine, with its perfectly placed subtle colours, underpinned (or overlaid) by the stunning effect of lit twig orbs and chandeliers. A simple but effective focus allows us to share Eve’s torment inside the confines of the mental institution. An interesting warning appears on the material outside the theatre, to let you know that “organic matter” will be used in the production. Obviously, this is in case of allergies, however; I thought that perhaps other, more sterile productions should probably come with the warning that no organic matter will be used. Perhaps this is a trick the state theatre company can keep in mind for future productions. It’s sensory theatre and we’re craving more of it. The team at Metro Arts has no qualms about letting the outside in and, just like the set of The Raven, EVE boasts more organic material than you will have seen used by local council workers to top up suburban roundabouts (the money is better spent in The Arts IMHO. Who really appreciates the bark as they’re driving by? Be honest!).

This is a show not to be missed. In particular, there is something so bold and fearless about Margi’s performance as Eve Langley that it almost defies description. But there it is. She is bold and fearless, powerful and vulnerable, passionate and selfish, determined and defiant and absolutely bloody marvelous. She’s the closest thing this town has to Robyn Nevin when Robyn Nevin is not in town.

Now. That term. What about it? Well, the term tour de force is bandied about quite often these days. Not until this intense and incredibly emotional performance by Margi Brown Ash, has it been applied appropriately thus far this year to describe a leading lady in Brisbane. I know. It’s a big call. Go see her become Eve and watch the transformation, as Eve becomes Wilde. Acting students and theatre lovers must not miss this opportunity to watch one of the masters at work in what will surely be one of the most memorable productions of the year.