The program for the fifth Brisbane Powerhouse Melt: Festival of Queer Arts and Culture is a chocolate box full of temptations. Killer Queens is certain to rock Brisbane audiences, Yank sounds as if it’s an unmissable musical, and everyone will want to drag themselves along to the fabulous Melt Beauty Pageant. It’s also great to see that the program is not all about sequinned parties and great music, but also includes drama and comedy.
Magnetic North Theatre Company’s Letters I Never Sent brings the voices of members of the Brisbane LGBTAIQX+ to the stage—or rather to the intimate Powerhouse Graffiti Room. Promotional material refers to the ‘letters’ as having been ‘sourced from queer networks’ to produce a ‘verbatim piece.’ As the audience steps into the space, the five performers (Cecile Blackmore, Sarah Hendon, Brodie Shelley, Ebony Webb, and Joseph Wilson) are busily ‘writing’ letters—all in their individual worlds and words. The set is also decorated with letters, hung above the space, and throughout the show, the actors select different envelopes, from which they read the various letters during the performance. The letters are also interspersed with what the zine-like program describes as a ‘reality check’—quotes from relevant court cases and news reports, including statistics about deaths from domestic abuse—intermingled with a sympathetic soundtrack (music credit: Jonny Easton). As part of the soundtrack suggests, it may be that many of the contributors typed their hearts and feelings out onto the digital page. But, whether written in pen and ink or onscreen, the end result was the same—text that documented the feelings, concerns and experiences of individuals who identify as ‘queer.’
The Director (Art Green) and cast have developed a piece which works well within the space—although the Maglite was a little unnecessary, and the regular moving around of the boxes was increasingly distracting. Probably the strongest parts of the show were the ‘court’ piece and the concluding ‘sorry’ build-up. Perhaps I just prefer my theatrical events to have a more distinct narrative flow, but I’d have preferred a piece that took the audience on more of a journey, perhaps with a stronger narrative arc (for example, five core stories which might have been illustrated by quotes from additional letters).
If you are interested in verbatim theatre, you may want to try to catch this 45-minute show before it ends—particularly to see Magnetic North at work, and to listen to the words of their anonymous contributors. My two personal takeaways from this piece are from the performances, and in particular the words. I wasn’t always sure why some of Cecile Blackmore’s characters had to be eating, but this didn’t detract from Blackmore’s interesting work. And Ebony Webb was a standout; I look forward to seeing future shows that feature this versatile artist. Most importantly, it is the letters themselves that have an impact. The piece reinforces the importance of understanding ‘queer’ as a broad spectrum of experience—as seen in writing, dignity, vulnerability, and love of the authors. Words that deserve to be read.
Verdict: Get along to Melt before it closes (Melt runs 27 June-7 July). If you are interested in verbatim theatre, you may be interested in adding Letters I Never Sent to your order.
Audience tip: Unallocated seating. 45 minutes. 15+ (coarse language, adult themes and suicide references). The Brisbane Powerhouse Graffiti Room Show has four performances (27-29 June, all at 7:15pm. An additional show at 9pm on 29 June 2019 only). Tickets $25 ($15 concession) plus $6.60 transaction fee. Presented by Magnetic North Theatre Company in partnership with Brisbane Powerhouse.
The reviewer attended the Thursday 27 June 2019 performance (7:15pm).
Image: Brisbane Powerhouse