The Q 10th Anniversary Season: Let's Celebrate! has a family focus

Future D. Fidel, playwright, who wrote Prize Fighter.  Photo: Dylan Evans
Future D. Fidel, playwright, who wrote Prize Fighter. Photo: Dylan Evans

The Q's program director, Stephen Pike, says that although the productions in next year's season are a varied lot, assembled from a variety of local and touring sources, there's a common element to many of them.

"More than half of them involve some type of family," he says.

"From my perspective, although they're all very different,they've all got something in there people can relate to."

The first production of the season, writer-director Michael Griffith's The Magnolia Tree (February 14-17), is very much about family. Pike is particularly excited to get this play to the Q; he first came across it in an earlier version when it had a different title 12 years ago while working at Canberra Repertory Society and heard about a recent production of the new play at La Mama in Melbourne which he invited to Queanbeyan.

Rohana Hayes is co-producer of the play and plays Deborah in what she describes as "almost like a psychological thriller".

Vicki has for years been full-time carer of her mother,who is severely afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. She and her siblings Jack and Deborah, a single mother with two children, meet to discuss what to do. One choice is to sell the family house and put their mother in a nursing home but Jack raises another possibility: kill her. Jack advocates this, saying everyone would be better off and it's what their mother would have wanted but Vicki can't stomach the thought and wants to see her mother cared for until she dies.

"Both Jacki and Vicki are vying for me to be on their side - call it a tug of war," Hayes says.

But ultimately,after an intense discussion, the decision will be left up to the audience - will they kill her or not? - and the actors will play the final scene according to the vote.

Queenie van de Zandt. Photo: Supplied

Queenie van de Zandt. Photo: Supplied

Hayes says the first version of the play,The Elecric Bed, was written about 2001, was shorter and had the mother on stage, among other differences.

"It did really well - it had the voting as well."

This new version's season at La Mama was sold out and there's a waiting list should it return.

Another play whose themes include family is Congoese refugee Future D.Fidel's Prize Fighter (September 24-28). Fidel's quasi-autobiographical play tells the story of Isa, an orphaned boy from the Congo who becomes a child soldier like his brother before escaping to a refugee camp in Kenya, where he spends five years.

"He is accepted as a refugee to Australia and uses boxing to redeem himself and tries to bring himself closer to his brother - he is searching for his brother who is still in the Congo."

The six-actor cast all play multiple roles and the actor playing Isa has the challenge of playing the character from 10 to 22, sometimes shifting between ages in the same scene as the boxing scenes, in particular, bring on flashbacks.

Fidel,30,was not a boxer or a child soldier himself but drew on the experiences of people he knew as well as his own life in writing Prize Fighter.

"I was just a regular kid," he says.

But his parents were killed in the war between Tanzania and the Congo and the situation degenerated into chaos - he lost contact with his brother and two sisters but they were eventually reunited. He was a Congoese refugee who arrived in Australia in 2005 with his siblings after eight years in refugee camps.

The Magnolia Tree: Ezra Bix as Jack, left, and Rohana Hayes as Deborah. Photo: supplied

The Magnolia Tree: Ezra Bix as Jack, left, and Rohana Hayes as Deborah. Photo: supplied

"We had no idea where Australia was," he says.

But despite all the danger and hardship, he says he was able to stay positive, partly a result of the Christian faith he grew up with: "God has a second chance for everyone."

In Australia, he lives in Ipswich and writes full-time.

"It's fine, very quiet - nobody troubles you," he says.

Also on the theme of family, Pike mentions David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning Proof, a play about a mathematician, his two daughters, a former student and a mathematical "proof" discovered after the mathematician's death, Hannie Rayson's Hotel Sorrento, an award-winning Australian comedy-drama about three adult sisters reunited after a decade apart and Reginald Rose's 12 Angry Men, being produced by Canberra's Everyman Theatre, focusing on the deliberations of a jury in a death-penalty case where a young man is accused of murdering his father.

For those who fancy something musical, there's plenty on offer. Former Canberran Queenie van de Zandt will be bringing two shows to the Q. Blue: the Songs of Joni Mitchell won best cabaret show and best cabaret performance at the Sydney Theatre Awards.

"I wrote it last year with Max Lambert, who's a renowned musical director in Australia," van de Zandt says (his credits include the stage musicals King Kong and Strictly Ballroom).

"I've always loved Joni Mitchell. I've always wanted to sing her material and do a show just with her songs."

Van de Zandt says Mitchell is "the kind of person you put on when you're feeling blue" but the Canadian singer-songwriter came by the melancholy feeling honestly: she gave up a baby daughter for adoption asa young woman which influenced some of her songs, such as Little Green.

Having recently given birth to a daughter herself, she felt this was a good time to do a show singing Mitchell's emotional songs.

On a lighter note, van de Zandt will also be bringing back her comic character Jan van der Stool in a new show called Parting the Red Curtain, "a show that takes it up the arts".

She says, "The premise is that Jan over the last 10 years has become very famous in her eyes as a muscal therapist, making a lot of celebrity friends . She's now looking at the world and wants to take the arts scene to the plebs, the ordinary people,to make it inclusive. She'll be adding the role of variety/game show host to her extensive ego."

Other shows on the musical and lighter side include a return season of Menopause the Musical, Glorius, the comedy about grand dame and would-be opera singer Florence Foster Jenkins, Downtown: the Mod Musical, featuring a bunch of 1960s hits; and Thank Q for The Memories - Let's Celebrate, with Shortis and Simpson and other acts.

For more information on these and other shows visit theq.net.au.

The Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre 2017 10th Anniversary Season: Let's Celebrate! theq.net.au.