Presented as part of the Anywhere Festival, Tuesday 12th May 2015
Walking through the gates and into the Boggo Road Gaol quadrangle, I was immediately ready to be taken prisoner. The turn of the century architecture transports the soles of my feet back in time, strolling freely along concrete mixed and poured by convicts. The red bricks, barbed wire and stained walls hold countless stories, silenced by history.
But tonight the jail wailed.
Set inside cell block F (I think) of the notorious prison, the opening movement sets the tone for the evening: loud, fast, take-no-prisoners theatricality. From amplified electric guitar (distorted by both pedal loop effects and the echoing multi-story penitentiary walls) to dynamic narrative and character shifts, Zeal Queensland presents an engaging, amusing and poignant piece about cycles of violence, told through the eyes of bullying subject Ray Bones.
Performers Sam Foster and Hayden Jones juggle a dozen characters or so, seemingly with ease. The feat is made more impressive by the bare-bones (no pun) design of the work. The magic here is not in the lighting rig or special effects, but the clarity and specificity of the performers. Jones displays extraordinary dexterity in his metamorphoses, regularly populating an entire bus-worth of snotty, grotty and all-too-recognisable teenagers. Foster presents a menacing figure in the role of ‘The Enemy’, tormenting the helpless Ray, who is given heart-breaking pathos by Jones throughout. Both actors deliver superb characterisations, and their background with movement training is obvious in highly physicalized sequences, as well as brutally choreographed combat.
The venue adds enormously to this production. With its gangways, stairs, and heavy cell doors, the scenes that take place within the prison (the class go on an excursion through this historic site) are given a heightened sense of reality. The characters voices bounce around the walls and coil up through the cavernous levels, just as those of their convict counterparts would have.
However, I did speak with an audience member who mentioned that at times the acoustics made it difficult to make out what was being said. I for one was happy to sacrifice some clarity in moments to indulge in the surroundings. Having seen the piece previously (Zeal has been touring The Apology for donkey’s), I can absolutely recommend it, especially in its current configuration.
The future of Boggo Road Gaol is uncertain, and pipeline developments suggest that performances inside this Brisbane treasure may become a thing of the past. Certainly, it may never host this theatrical event again, and that alone is reason to attend.
Buy a ticket, and shackle yourself in for the ride.
The Apology plays on various days and times until the 23rd of May.
Disclaimer: This reviewer has worked with these creatives previously.
Reviewed by Ben Warren
– Writer and Performer in Brisbane