On the anniversary of Vinnie’s suicide, the family gathers for a meal. Grief manifests in a variety of ways. Vinnie’s parents seem unable to talk about their feelings: Mum (Abigail, Lisa Maza) turning to drink, and Dad (Eric, Colin Smith) brooding over the horrendous experience of being the first to find his son. Vinnie’s siblings appear to be retreating from the family: Preston (Benjin Maza) locking himself in his room, with 15-year old Akira (Ebony McGuire) staying glued to her phone. But if the rest of the family is finding it difficult to talk Nanna Lou (Roxanne McDonald)—the feisty, funny and occasionally foul-mouthed matriarch—certainly overcompensates.  

Steven Oliver (writer) has a wickedly funny turn of phrase and a strong stage presence. The ‘voice’ of the writer comes through so powerfully that I could imagine Oliver playing all of the roles; so, it’s just as well that the director (Isaac Drandic) has assembled a strong cast and fantastic creative support. The set design (Kevin O’Brien) worked perfectly for this piece. La Boite is a flexible space, and although I heard one audience member muttering about entering from level 2, I thought it was a good choice; looking down onto the performance space was a great way to start, and end, the experience of the play. Keith Deverall’s videographic work was a standout: compelling visual design that was both a work of art and also a vital means of communicating the dreams and spirit-world relationships which formed a central part of the story.

“R U OK?” Day seemed a perfect time to be sitting in the quirky (and fun) Brisbane Festival Theatre Republic space, waiting to see a play about a family coping with the aftermath of suicide. I’m glad I saw it. The interpersonal relationships were beautifully established, and the messages about family, belonging, and the need to listen to all members of the family (of whatever age) were carefully set up. Go with an open mind…enjoy the dark humour of some of the one-liners… and come away reflecting on the importance of being with those who are close to you. Or, in Preston’s words, “we need to remember us.”

Verdict: Stephen Oliver’s play about family, belonging, and the need to listen is a good investment of 70 minutes of your time. Great cast (and worth the price of admission just to see the standout videographic work), with the bonus of  a great venue (La Boite) and a chance to spend time in Theatre Republic.

Audience tip: Sit in the centre seats if you can. 15+ (coarse language, references to spirits, and themes of suicide, death, grief and loss). 70 minutes. 2019 Brisbane Festival, 7-28 September 2019. Tickets are $35-56 (plus booking fee).

Catherine Lawrence

The reviewer attended the Thursday 12 September 2019 performance (7:30pm). An abbreviated version of this review is included in the 2019 Brisbane Festival In My Honest Opinion website.

Picture: The anniversary meal. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Picture: The anniversary meal. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography