Out of the Box
Colin Robertson investigates alternative theatre in Brisbane
Wear a dinner suit to an opening night at Brisbane's La Boite Theatre and you'll probably be mistaken for a penguin. Or if you're partial to a punch in the nose take artistic director Rick Biliinghurst by the roll-top of his sweater and suggest that he put on a season of plays by J. B. Priestley.
Priestley and the English repertory-type theatre are not Billinghurst's cup of gin and tonic and it would seem to be no accident that the company he has directed for the past couple of years is known as La Boite and not by its official title, The Brisbane Repertory Theatre.
La Boite is the name of the tiny box-like theatre-in-the-round, and since he took over, Billinghurst (NIDA class of '66) has filled the stage with plenty of flesh, gore, avant-garde and classical plays, and has given attention to local playwrights. Lorna Boi's Treadmill and Jill Shearer's The Kite and The Boat were two that emerged from last year's successful season of Queensland plays.
Snoo Wilson is one of Billinghurst's favorite shock playwrights. He sneaked Vampire past the local Festival of Light outpost at the dead of midnight. No one ever knew, save for a few hardy critics and patrons whose desire for corruption rested little short of masochism. Wilson's fantasy biography of Aleister Crowley has just finished a run at La Boite and Everest Hotel was also on last year.
Billinghurst's stated desire is to drag Queensland theatre - protestingly if necessary - into the 20th century. He'd have given his eye teeth to have been first in Australia with East which opened recently in Sydney.
Audience patterns have changed at La Boite in the past couple of years. The theatre now attracts a much younger group and with the success of its production of Man of Steel this trend will probably continue.
People ask why there's all this talk about La Boite when most of the actors are amateur. True - but there is always such an air of excitement and dedication at La Boite that a lot can be forgiven. Witness Jennifer Blocksidge's wonderful production of Romeo and Juliet where the diction was not quite Chichester but the love story sprang through with the natural quality of green grass.
Associate director at La Boite is young David Bell, who lives, breathes, eats and sleeps theatre. He is 20-odd going on 60 and looks as though if he ever goes outside it will be to ask someone what is that big orange ball in the sky. A young man with a great future, he has designed the present production at La Boite - the almost commercial Young Mo, by Stephen J. Spears, which opened on Friday night.
There are signs that Billinghurst may have softened somewhat with this year's offerings. After Young Mo comes City Sugars, by Britain's National Theatre resident playwright, Stephen Poliakoff, then a Brecht prophetic fairy tale, The Good Person Szechwan. It would seem the "in" name for playwrights in 1978 is Stephen, because local playwright Stephen Sewell follows Brecht with The Father We Loved on A Beach by The Sea.
Hang on then for the Australian premiere of Odon von Horvath’s 1931 play Tales from the Vienna Woods, which is described as a vibrant collage of stunning brilliance that incorporates song, dance and comedy into a panoramic vision of Vienna in 1929.
Could be a good year at La Boite Theatre, in the shadow of the Queensland Rugby League headquarters at Lang Park. It deserves to succeed.
Writer: Theatre Critic Colin Robertson, The Australian, April 17 1978