When asked by Peter Charlton, reporter with the Brisbane Telegraph, why she chose Rodney Milgate’s A Refined Look at Existence, La Boite’s Theatre Director Jennifer Blocksidge said “… it is an Australian play for the opening of an Australian theatre, and a unique one at that”.[i]
In her notes in the Souvenir Program she signalled that audiences could expect to see more and more Australian plays in future seasons:
Theatre has been the “orphan” art of Australia. Today there is a growing awareness of the importance of “doing our own Theatrical Thing” rather than relying on the label “It’s good – it’s imported”. Hopefully, Repertory Theatre will be part of this awareness. The atmosphere and size of La Boite should lend itself well to this sort of venture. In this we need your help. Come and tell us when we succeed – but more importantly tell us when we fail. Only then can we help Australian Theatre to grow and flourish.
As well as its ‘Australianness’, there were other reasons for this particular choice related to the theatricality of the piece and its potential to show off the flexibility of La Boite’s performance space:
… its shape is particularly suited to “the Round”, both in its setting and in its emotional pattern. Hopefully, the flexibility of our Theatre’s shape will be apparent in this first production. If, as we claim, we have something unique to offer audiences, then I wanted them to see why. Finally, this is a theatrical play. I feel that even if you dislike it, you can hardly ignore it!
Based on the Greek story of the Bacchae and set in a mythical Australian country town called Dirch River, the play took the audience on a journey from scenes of domestic disharmony, to murder, to a pop concert complete with a rock band playing original music, to a horrifying conclusion. Charlton, in his review, called it “a disturbing play” that has “something very pertinent to say about twentieth century life”:
You leave the theatre overwhelmed by the immense spectacle of the final act – the reverberating shot, the sudden, sharp death, and the sad, worldly-wise soliloquy by Donny at the end. By comparison with what has passed before – the commonplace, almost hackneyed first act, the literally absurd second act – the third is overpowering. … Jennifer Blocksidge’s blocking is excellent, considering the inherent difficulties of presenting what is almost three plays in one.[ii]
He praised the performances of Kaye Stevenson, David Chandler, Michael Williams, Ray Meagher and John Dwyer but most praise was heaped on the young actor Bille Brown for his performance of the pop star, Donny “who makes this play work both as a piece of entertainment and a chunk of theatre”. By the end of the year, Brown’s professional career had been launched with the Queensland Theatre Company, although he returned the following year to the amateur La Boite for Peter Clarke’s production of Indians by Arthur Kopit.[iii]
Bille Brown went on to build a sustained career as an acclaimed actor, director and writer both nationally and internationally. Queensland Theatre Company’s studio theatre was named the Bille Brown Studio in recognition of the high esteem in which he is held as a Queensland born and bred artist. He died in Brisbane in 2013.
Writer: Christine Comans