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THEATRE: Death in Bowengabbie

Written by Peri Wilson on March 16, 2010

Death in Bowengabbie
Written/ Directed By Caleb Lewis
Design by Verity Hampson
Starring: Andrew Brackman

Running since 1997 in the basement of an old pub, the Old Fitzroy Theatre is one of the most intimate performance spaces Sydney has to offer. The laid-back, grassroots vibe is perfectly suited to the personal and tender story of Death in Bowengabbie.

Written by Caleb Lewis and nominated for best production at the Adelaide Fringe festival, Death in Bowengabbie follows the story of the soon to be married Oscar. Having absconded after a string of family tragedies fifteen years earlier, Oscar returns to his hometown for a series of funerals. Harried by the ageing townsfolk and intrigued by childhood friend Abby, Oscar becomes involved in town life again, much against his will.

Andrew Brackman narrates and performs the tale. He breathes life into a swathe of characters; old men and women, poor foolhardy Oscar, and a hysterically bloodthirsty Russian dog. Working with limited props; a toy train, suitcases, flowers – and stripping down through various stages of undress, Brackman manages to create the fictional town out of thin air. Although the set is sparsely furnished, Brackman manages to fill the space, imbibing town inhabitants with enthusiasm and complexity.

The script is cleverly written and funny; Lewis is a skilled storyteller and with Brackman as his sonorous narrator, they spin an engaging tale. Lewis writes “Creating this piece came out of a desire to return to a simple direct piece of storytelling, rich in imagination and wonder, told in the old Troubadour style.”

Brackman’s performance fashions the narrative; he has a strong physical presence and fluid movements that make good use of the small stage. It is obvious that he relishes the language and under his steady hand the dialogue ducks and soars. As single man on a bare stage it is a challenge to successfully engage the audience, Brackman however achieves this with gusto; the onlookers lean forward in the dim light, hanging on his every word.

When theatre is stripped back to a bare minimum, when there are no flashy special effects and no huge budget, the success of the play rests on clear direction and the merits of the performance and the writing. Fortunately Death in Bowengabbie has a strong foundation in all three, with a stellar performance from Brackman and a rich, witty dialogue crafted by Lewis.

Oscar’s poignant tale speaks to the audience about the death of the small town. It is a resonating story, with familiar characters that elicit huge laughs from the crowd. The direction is tight and the emotional intensity of the piece captures Oscar’s bumpy ride to love and the repeal of his family’s damming legacy. Interpreted with intelligence and executed with a sharp pace, the story draws you along; proving to be both a uniquely Australian narrative and an accomplished piece of theatre.

Venue: Old Fitzroy Theatre, Cathedral Street, Woolloomooloo

Season: 11 to 26 March

Tickets: $29 full, $21 concession, $35 for beer, laksa and show (plus bf), cheap Tuesday is $17 or 25 for beer, laksa and show (plus bf)

Bookings: www.rocksurfers.org or www.moshtix.com.au

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