Renowned theatre creative Elise Greig brings her newly developed work Magpie to present a transcendent tale of homecoming that explores a novelist’s geographical and psychological distance from her childhood roots. When forced to return to her family home in Brisbane after her father’s death, Mordecai is confronted with her estranged family, abandoned childhood and avoided unpleasantness. Alone with her unwelcoming and empty family home, her father’s remaining possessions and her own a flooding back of decades of memories, the ever feisty and ruthless writer discovers that facing her mysterious past with resentment and haste isn’t as easy as she expected.
Jumping from her desolate family home in the present to a harrowing 1961 summer from Mordecai’s childhood, Greig’s story sets up a process of piecing together of subjective memories, skeptical reflections and chronicled anecdotes. Within the walls of an unaffected Australian home that has withstood decades of heat, storms and reputed family curses Mordecai’s unique perspective and vivid imagination work together to depict the essence of each memory, location or feeling to the Visy theatre audience. Throughout her focal character’s colourful modern day reflections and meticulous journal entries from her early teens, Greig’s descriptions are a crafty employment of a writer’s distinct voice to set up stories, depict characters and fill the theatre stage with life from the opening monologue. When combined with Josh Mcintosh’s realistic set design, David Walter’s vibrant lighting and Guy Webster’s surging sound design Greig’s effervescent language, settings and emotions are provided with humble accompaniments that reinforce and fill a realistically dull grey home setting with life and mystery.
As Mordecai explores her childhood journal, she recollects images of an isolated childhood filled with tension between her unhappy parents and restriction from her father. Ruminating on a past that is loaded with haunting secrets, Mordecai quickly unveils the importance of her disregarded family’s heritage as a significant reason for her childhood experiences of isolation. Her parents’ rough and thick native Romany language forefronts these experiences, with a young and conceived Mordecai left feeling trapped between struggling to decipher her parents’ aggressive fights in their native language and attempting fit in with her Australian surroundings and neighbours.
The writing trope of physically returning to one’s past is executed with a wonderfully refreshing setup where the marvelous Barb Lowing performs as both the fragile teenager from the journal entries and memories and the indignant and distrustful woman she has become in the present. Lowing is guttural and vulnerable in equal measures with her interweaving performance as both Mordecai’s offering a multidimensional insight into the comparisons between the character’s past and present self, as well as showcasing her unrelenting power and tenacity on stage. Lowing’s performance is vibrant, sharp and wonderfully witty one moment and beautifully dejected the next. Beside her, Julian Curtis and Kathryn Marquet present beautifully measured portrayals of Mordecai’s tormented parents with Curtis offering wonderfully subtle switches from anger to emotional exhaustion with Marquet presenting a deep seeded sadness that peaks with tearful pleas throughout painful arguments. With such consistent tension and suppression from Mordecai’s family, Michael Mandalios provides charming liveliness and eager fascination as Mordecai’s effervescent childhood friend Splinter. The cast are fused together to create an elegant and refined maturity throughout the murder mystery plot that offers an assemblage of touching connection, frightening despair and heartfelt sincerity.
With Greig’s illustrative storytelling techniques and the design team’s creation of a picturesque atmosphere, the production’s relatively simplistic narration and character-driven storytelling devices are executed with impressive impact. The productions’ complimentary design and cast performances pair with Greig’s writing perfectly to highlight the complex and unique mind of an fascinating writer as she explores the disregarded love, loss and enduring mysteries from her past.
– Written by Rhumer Diball June 4th2019.
MAGPIE PRESENTED BY PLAYLAB, METRO ARTS AND E. G. IN PARTNERSHIP WITH BRISBANE POWERHOUSE
WED 29thMAY – SAT 08 JUN
Photo credit Stephen Henry