Boggo Road Gaol, May 12 – 23 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
People think I run away after a show if I’ve hated it but that’s not always true. It’s sometimes true, but not always. On Tuesday night I was so affected by The Apology that I ran away so no one would see how upset I was. I was overwhelmed, on the verge of tears…
Unfortunately, we’d been locked in. The gate through which we’d entered Boggo Road Gaol was locked and barred from the inside (keeping inmates safe since 1883?), so I composed myself for a moment while the lovely box office girl raced up to let me out. I had to smile and say something so I thanked her and said I’d email Sam the following day. (And I did so because PRODUCTION PICS!). And then I let the tears fall, all the way to Aspley before I knew where I was. I’ve gotten pretty darn good at navigating Brisbane at night during Anywhere Theatre Festival, I can tell you.
I wasn’t sobbing, don’t worry; it wasn’t a desperate outpouring of something so intense or personal only live theatre could unlock it (but that’s happened before). It was an overwhelming feeling of responsibility (well, it’s impossible to teach kids without investing emotionally). Also, contributing factors including I was really tired and feeling fed up with driving and road works and well, young men in utes on the freeway are just so RUDE sometimes, aren’t they? And I’d been to dinner the night before with the awesome Matty Anderson and his Melbourne Storm Development Academy boys and I looked up at those young faces and their wide eyes full of high hopes, and talked with those who have been around a bit longer than they have been about footy, bullying, rape culture, human trafficking, daughters and… I HAD A LOT ON MY MIND.
ANYWAY, I suddenly felt really strongly that everyone everywhere needed to see this show.
Well, thanks to Artslink Qld it’s been happening, during an extensive schools’ tour since 2004. I hadn’t realised, having not heard about it, which is unusual and adds weight to the discussion about the need for a Sunshine Coast secondary drama teachers’ network-not-just-panel.
So students and teachers from Weipa to Warwick, Mt Isa to Mackay, and Gladstone to the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast have already experienced (Writer & Director) Stefo Nantsou’s hardcore two-hander, The Apology, but somehow I’d missed it until now. Other Zeal Theatre Queensland productions have been touring and winning great acclaim for years too. Who knew?
The Apology is an example of Zeal Theatre’s signature style of doing as much as possible with as little as possible.
The infamous Brisbane Prison features in the show – it’s the setting for an incident that occurs during a Year 9 excursion, a terrifying experience that alters the course of a young boy’s life. What was intended as a cruel “joke” ends up having horrific repercussions…repercussions that we know really happened. The Apology is based on a true story.
The text is fairly authentic without being offensive; the language, including those relentless and so-called “innocent” jibes uttered “just for fun”, which kids learn from somewhere (where do they learn to speak to each other that way?!) are delivered slowly and tauntingly, like a knife being removed from the spleen, or as quick, sharp stabs straight to the heart, depending on the character involved.
Just two actors, Sam Foster & Hayden Jones, perform all the characters (and Foster plays a pretty mean guitar too, the compositions and volume ideal in this haunted, haunting space).
This accomplishment is so much more impressive than I can write about here. The mastery with which these two employ the slightest change in vocal and facial expression, posture, gesture and gait (or adjust the angle of a baseball cap) to keep the story moving at a rapid pace will win over even the most skeptical non-theatre-attending fourteen year old!
As exhilarating as the pace might feel at times (and not forgetting it’s very funny), there’s not an empathetic moment missed. And this is the magic. A less confident team might gloss over critical moments but instead we are left sitting in silence and stillness for juuuuust long enough to start to feel uncomfortable…and inexplicably guilty.
Shouldn’t we be doing something?! Somebody tell him to stop it! STOP!
I’ve never sat in an audience and felt so conflicted about sitting still and paying attention without interjecting. Well, there have been committee meetings that have come close but…there were times when I wanted to sit “the Eneme” (Foster) down and tell him, “You don’t need to be that guy” and times when I wanted to give Ray Bones (Jones) a big hug and tell him, “You don’t need to be that guy!” by which he would have been discomforted and unresponsive, walked away. I know this because we feel as if we know the characters well enough to do this; to intercede, to protect, to prevent harm… N.B. At no point did I feel compelled to punch the Eneme in the head. I think that’s important, don’t you?
The personality and family history brought to the story by Ray’s character is typical and really worrying. His parents are continuously fighting and repeatedly splitting. He has no friends and no sense of self-worth, and his dad’s one hot tip is to pick the right time and fight back! WTF?! And then there’s the downward spiral at school and the principal’s completely inappropriate lectures, the adult behaviour demonstrating the insidious bullying that happens systemically from the top down. Who can even consider getting near enough to him to be able to help Ray? It’s heartbreaking. And then, even more heartbreaking, he picks his moment.
Within a cleverly styled satirical segment, which is surprisingly upbeat, though it’s just as hard-hitting, we are given the opportunity to stop and consider how we feel about this story and its stakeholders when a television journalist presents the “facts” of the case. A similar device is employed in The Stones, when the boys stand on trial and the audience becomes the jury. To frame the case and recap the story in this way makes it easier for teachers to talk about the themes of the show with their students but it’s probably not necessary to include it for the general public…or is it? Do we need a framework such as this, using comedy and the familiar news report or reality television format, to be able to talk about the too-hard issues? Is it in fact precisely the way we need to frame these serious issues, which are not being treated seriously enough by so many people in authority and in roles that require the care of children?
And what about those adults who are speaking to each other in this manner? What about workplace bullying and “mates” who won’t let up? What about the jostling and hustling in the locker room and on the sports field? What about the graduation party that becomes a dangerous game of Truth or Dare? What about the tough guy or girl who doesn’t like what you’re wearing (or “misinterprets” what you’re wearing)? This show could be the precursor to a whole series of hardcore shows that challenge us to reconsider the way we communicate with each other. Perhaps we could have each play filmed and available to download or purchase on DVD. Perhaps we might see the ABC produce a series of episodes for prime time viewing. I’m not kidding. Can you help to make that happen? Let me know if you can.
Imagine if actually believable stuff using our most talented actors, writers and directors became the new reality TV. (I have wide eyes and high hopes too. Let’s change a culture, kids).
So now I’m looking out for those other productions in Zeal Theatre’s repertoire, including The Forwards, coming soon to The Arts Centre, Gold Coast. The season runs during the intense lead-up to Noosa Long Weekend Festival (I think it’s actually during my rehearsal week!), but Sam and I are determined to see what Lowdown Magazine says is the company’s “most powerful play”.
Images by Peter Cabral Photography