Brisbane is managing to attract some blockbuster shows to our major venues—productions requiring major investments that demand high ticket prices. But if you are looking for a show that is challenging and occasionally confronting, and which will keep you all talking about the messages and ideas presented by the creative team, then make sure you visit some of the smaller venues around town. And keep Room to Play on your shortlist. The latest work produced by this local creative team is now on at the Metro Arts Sue Brenner Theatre.
Imagination has a lot to answer for. Essential in learning and development for children and adults alike, imagination can also spark illness or phobias (which can then be exacerbated by what the sufferer imagines will happen to them). Imagination is also vital for successful theatre. Directors, playwrights and actors toil to create an imaginary world that will inspire, challenge or entertain their audiences—which is generally watched through the ‘fourth wall.’ Imagination is at the heart of Lally Katz’s The Esiteddfod: agoraphobic (or are they?) orphaned children (or are they now adults?) play out fantasies and rehearse (Macbeth!) for a (real or imagined?) theatrical competition. And if we are in any doubt as to whether this is real or not, the playwright-as-narrator interjects, reminding us that this is a play ("I'm Lally Katz, and I wrote it!"), and that the characters are now lost somewhere in her computer.
The synopsis describes The Eisteddfod as a “suburban absurdist work, comic and disturbing.” Fortunately for Brisbane audiences, the Metro Arts/Room to Play production is in the hands of Director Heidi Manché. As a student of Dario Fo, Manché ably ‘treads the tightrope’ in a show that is an often-disturbing journey into issues of anxiety, abuse, fantasy and control.
Much of the tension in the play comes from the Abalone’s (Matthew James French) struggle to retain control of their shared fantasies (often parodies of the suburban lives of their deceased parents) and his frustration that Gerture (Madison Kennedy-Tucker) is increasingly spending time “working in the classroom.” He tempts Gerture back to rehearsals with the prospect of winning the top prize in the theatrical competition (Eisteddfod): a one-way ticket to Moscow.
Luckily the casting is excellent, as this two-handed play places great demands on the actors. Kennedy-Tucker draws out the vulnerabilities and strengths of Gerture (as abused lover, as aspiring teacher, and as a sister who aims to please), so we are not surprised when she wears the blue ribbon to indicate she has won the much-prized trip to Moscow. French rises to the challenges of the desperate, controlling and yet vulnerable Abalone, while at the same time repulsing with his sexual preoccupations and bullying.
The Metro Arts Sue Benner Theatre is a great venue for this production, as the audience look down on the often-confronting and uncomfortable fantasies of the two characters. Congratulations to David Walters (Lighting Design), Chelsea Jewell (Production Designer), for creating a cell-like space, complete with barricades of paper. The play is not for the faint-hearted, with childish preoccupations to shock including sexual references and frequent coarse language. But if you are up for a challenge, you only have until 24 March to see The Eisteddfod.
The reviewer attended the opening night performance, Thursday 15 March, 2018 (7:00pm).
NB Parental advisory (15+ suggested): swearing or offensive language and adult themes. Please note that there is no latecomer entry.
Venue: Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts, 109 Edward St Brisbane (www.roomtoplay.com.au/whats-on/; https://www.metroarts.com.au/events/the-eisteddfod/)
Tickets: General Admission $28, Concession (& Preview) $20, LOCAL Season Pass $60 (or $40 for concession season pass),