In February my son and I headed off to QPAC for the first play of the Queensland Theatre Season 2020. It was David Williamson’s Emerald City. At the time we did not know it would be over eight months until we sat in the darkened Playhouse again. But these have been the strangest of times and one of the things I have learnt is that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.
Last night my husband and I were privileged to attend Opening Night of Queensland Theatre’s first play back, Mouthpiece. The crowd in the foyer was smaller but excited. We chatted with friends we hadn’t seen for months. We wondered what it would feel like in a theatre at half capacity. How would the actors be feeling right now after months away? How nervous was Artistic Director, Lee Lewis?
As we took our seats and the lights went down a hush descended, as the petite powerhouse, Christen O’ Leary, took the stage. She commanded our attention and as she teetered on the edge of a cliff you knew instantly that you were in for a great night. Jayden Popik arrived just in time but you could tell that he was also on a brink of his own, a crossroads in his life. Suddenly this unlikely pair became friends and confidantes and as the heartbeat of an audience beat as one you became invested in their story. The theatre was back, with one of the most powerful pieces I have seen in a very long time.
A cliff. Night. A woman on the edge as her dreams crumble around her. But this ledge belongs to Declan. This is his only safe space. She is trespassing. They should never have met.
Mouthpiece is a bold collision of class, privilege and power. Libby is a woman who has squandered her opportunities while Declan is a young man who may never be offered any. He has a story and she has the means to tell it….. but does she have the right to? When does inspiration become theft?
This two hander was written by Kieran Hurley and won a 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival prize. Despite the story being written by a Scotsman, It could be set in any city in the world. This production is set in Brisbane with loads of local references to make you chuckle. It’s a startlingly audacious and gripping play which asks, “ How much of someone’s story can we claim as our own?”
It’s also the story of an unlikely friendship between a middle aged washed up writer and a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. They share a love of art and a connection as fellow humans. From the startling opening to the final devastating showdown it invites the audience to probe where lines are drawn. Director Lee Lewis says, “ It’s very funny, very moving and will have your head spinning with the knotty ethical issues it provokes long after you leave the theatre.”
We all know that Christen O’ Leary is a magnificent actress. I’ve had the pleasure of watching her in Ladies In Black, Antigone, Twelfth Night, North by Northwest and look forward to seeing her in Triple X next year. I’ve been lucky enough to interview Christen and was made to feel like an old friend . I am always amazed at the depth and breadth of talent that exudes from this down to earth Mum on stage. Yet tonight the role of Libby seems like the one she was born to play. She is so believable, so mesmerising from the very first second and as Lewis says, “ Christen bares her theatre soul as the play asks, “ why do we even make theatre at all?”
Through her performance Libby reveals that the answer is connection. As we watch the story unfold with every shred of human emotion from shyness to embarrassment, happiness to shame, Christen connects with her co star and audience like no-one I have ever seen. It was an absolutely stellar performance that ripped right into your gut.
Equally impressive was the commanding presence of the young Jayden Popik. An old boy from Townsville Grammar, this young actor has been living and performing in Melbourne. He returned home to the Sunshine State to be near family and the surf and we are lucky to have him here.
Jayden is simply perfect as the troubled and vulnerable character of Declan, a boy who is imprisoned by circumstance yet who shows his kind, artistic and loving side to Libby. There are also moments where he shares anger, despair and confusion. This debut performance for Queensland Theatre shows his range as he runs the gamut of human emotion. One to watch! I predict a star studded career for this surprising new talent.
Both my husband and I thought this play was brilliant and as we rose to give our stars a standing ovation I know I was not the only one in the theatre with a tear in my eye. This play is one we needed to see to make us feel alive again after our long, anxious and harried hiatus. Our artists need the applause, they need our support and they need you sitting in the theatre so that they can show off their fine work and feed their families.
It’s so much better than Zoom or Netflix or binging on that old TV series. If you’ve been craving that human emotion or just a great night out head to QPAC and see this gritty, sweaty, sweary and grunty beast of a play which has at its heart …. a love story. Mouthpiece will be playing at The Playhouse, QPAC until 14 November.
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).