Domestic Bliss

Stephen Carleton: QTC, Home




In Queensland Theatre Company’s foyer library, we are offered a choice of green or oolong tea and a home-made biscuit before entering Margi Brown Ash’s HOME, which had premiered in La Boite’s Independent season in 2013. This production is the first to use QTC’s intimate new performance space, the refashioned Diane Cilento Studio. The technical direction of Freddy Kromp, the lighting design of Ben Hughes and the visual artistry of Bev Jensen have converted this white box into a hearth, framed by video projections of lace curtains and filled with books, bespoke chairs of various sizes and hanging perspex picture frames adorned with quotes referring to memory, remembrance and the passage of time.

Travis Ash plays a piano score and Brown Ash enters and announces that this is a performance about storytelling—a telling of a version of her life that she will later conclude is underpinned by no assumption of an authentic or ‘real’ self. “I will play my part and dream this potential. I will ask some of you to join me.” She begins with a retelling of her favourite story—a foundational Egyptian myth about Set, Osiris and Isis treating each other appallingly. It is a story, ultimately, about family and betrayal and retribution and love and longing and remembrance. And we are launched into this warm, astounding, deeply idiosyncratic semi-autobiographical and un-pigeonholeable performance piece, swept up in the storytelling as though we are in fact sharing a magic carpet with Scheherazade herself.

The intimate studio space is a perfect home for this theatrical experience, premised as it is on sharing family stories with a complicit audience who are asked to join the performers on stage and substitute for Brown Ash, her mother, her husband and children at various points in their richly matrixed lives. While Brown Ash provides the confessional heart to the piece, composer and son Travis shares interspersing socio-political vignettes that link the family’s personal trajectory to matters of conscience in the outside world—Vietnam War protests, Palestinian resistance, Christmas Island refugee shipwreck survivors. The personal and the political are entwined here. Each of us has our own story and we are all interconnected, the piece seems to be telling us. Every family has its own mythology, and the public exchanging of these intimate revelations constitutes acts of bravery, acts of vulnerability and exposure that remind us how human and eternal we are.

It’s hard to do this entrancing work justice in a short review—the exposure to the way Brown Ash’s brain works (beautifully in tandem with director and long time collaborator Leah Mercer) is a richly rewarding experience. I wanted to share this experience with loved ones—my son, my mother. Margi Brown Ash is something of a state treasure and it is terrific to see experimental, thoughtful, interrogative and elaborately textured work like this sneaking into the QTC ancillary program.

QTC & Force of Circumstance: HOME, writer, performer, devisor Margi Brown Ash, devisor, director Leah Mercer, writer, performer, composer Travis Ash; Diane Cilento Studio, The Greenhouse, Brisbane, 14-25 July

Congratulations to Stephen Carleton on winning the 2015 Griffin Theatre Award for best new play by an Australian playwright, The Turquoise Elephant, an absurdist work depicting the chaos of a future world rapidly succumbing to climate change. Eds

RealTime issue #128 Aug-Sept 2015 pg. 41

© Stephen Carleton; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

16 August 2015