All things Ruben Guthrie: An Interview with David Berthold (La Boite)’s QLD Correspondent, Bobbi-Lea, caught up with Director David Berthold (pictured) to talk all things Ruben Guthrie, opening at La Boite Theatre on the 8th October.

David Berthold

Ruben Guthrie is the work of Brendan Cowell, an award winning Australian actor best known for his roles in the film Noise, the well-known TV series Love My Way, and stage productions such as Hamlet with the Bell Shakespeare company. Cowell can now add Award-Winning Playwright to his belt with the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, the Philip Parsons Award and the Griffin Award.

His play, Ruben Guthrie, has been shortlisted for a number of awards including the 2008 Sydney Theatre Award for Best New Australian Work, the 2009 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, and a 2009 AWGIE Award.

The play will be presented by QLD’s La Boite Theatre Company this month, and I took some time to chat with La Boite’s Artistic Director (and director of this production) David Berthold about this wonderful Australian work.

The show is about a twenty-year-old Creative Director of a top mine advertising agency – Reuben Guthrie. And with a nineteen-year old Czech supermodel girlfriend, Ruben really has the world at his feet. But he likes to drink. He drinks in order to work, he drinks at work, drinks after work, drinks at parties… infact, when is he NOT drinking?!

It’s the train wreck you can’t help but watch…

Bobbi-Lea: But it’s not a dark depressing story, is it?
David: No, it’s certainly a comedy, but it treats it’s subject seriously at the same time and I think that’s one of the great things about the play; the way it can balance the comic and compassionate.
Bobbi-Lea: And Brendan Cowell’s the writer of this contemporary Australian work. What do you think prompted Brendan to write the piece?
David: He makes no secret of the fact that he was drawn quite a lot on his personal experiences. He was drinking a lot himself and took a year off drinking alcohol. So a lot of the stuff that happens in the play, happened to him. And he’s really thrown that into the play and it certainly has the ring of authenticity about it. And he’s written a lot of plays, he’s heading towards his tenth play or something like that, and this is his most recent. I think he’s best as well and I think part of the reason for that is he’s written such a spectacularly good central role and it has the absolute ring of authenticity.

Gyton Grantley as Ruben Guthrie
Gyton Grantley in rehearsals as Ruben Guthrie. Photo by Al Caeiro

Perfectly cast as Ruben is award-winning actor Gyton Grantley, best known for his role as Carl Williams in the TV show Underbelly. Playing his mum is Queensland theatre icon Caroline Kennison and his dad will be portrayed by John McNeill. Darren Sabadina, a recent NIDA graduate, is playing his best mate (who also likes to drink) and other cast members include Hayden Spencer (Ray, the advertising agency boss), recent QUT graduate Lauren Orrell, (his Czech supermodel girlfriend) and Kathryn Marquet.

With the unique layout of the La Boite roundhouse theatre and the very young audience demographic which flocks to the shows at La Boite, Berthold believes that this play fits both the venue and its audience very well.

“It’s the kind of play our particular audiences would really like very much”, he said. The theatre here can be fully in the round, and it felt like we were staging it in the round which we don’t do for every play, sometimes the audience is just on three sides. But this play, because Ruben’s very much the pivot around, you know, the mechanism of which the whole play turns… I felt that being in the round would really serve this play very well as there’s a very special relationship between the actor and audience here at La Boite because of the space.”

Berthold feels that the roundhouse demands a very open and very direct relationship between actor and audience, and certainly this play does that.

John McNeill in rehearsals for Ruben Guthrie
John McNeill in Rehearsals for Ruben Guthrie. Photo by Al Caeiro

“Ruben, at the beginning of the play spends quite a bit of time sitting in a circle, just talking directly to the audience as members of the AA meeting and telling stories from his life, which are so engaging to hear. And to do them in the round, I think will give him a really close relationship with the audience”, said Berthold.

Bobbi-Lea: What did you particularly like working on this piece the best?
David: I really admire the play. You know, not every play stands up to close scrutiny. If you are rehearsing a piece eight hours a day and you’re looking very closely the text, sometimes you can find things that maybe don’t quite make sense. With this play, I must say, did not find at all, on close examination layer by layer it goes down. And part of what I mean about the authenticity of the piece, is it’s a really well-built play and you can hear Bendan’s knowledge and experience of the theatre both as an actor, writer and director of well over 10 years now.

It’s clear that he understands what dialogue works, the way a play is built, building scenes and so on, and I really admire that. It seems that the success of La Boite is due to the winning formula of contemporary plays, young audiences, and an unusual theatre space. Even in the face of economic downturn, David finds it interesting that the theatre has remained unscathed.

“It’s a really interesting time, people are lining up around the block to get in. We’re in such a strong period and I think that’s worth noting. It’s really encouraging that people are still coming in big numbers to our theatre to see things that directly engaged with their life in some way and it’s been wonderful to see that”, he said.

La Boite Theatre Company strives to present interesting, engaging and unique theatrical experiences and Berthold believes this is what makes audiences return again and again to the theatre.

“If it gives you an unusual experience you can’t find anywhere else, then that’s where people come. The experience of being in the theatre at La Boite; of being in the production, watching a production, experiencing a production with four hundred people who are there in a room circling the stage – it’s a pretty exciting event and I think that’s one of the things that appeals to people”, he said.

With a stellar cast and an incredible text to work with, this production of Ruben Guthrie is set to be a fabulous night out at the theatre. Playing at La Boite Roundhouse Theatre from October 8 – November 12, I suggest you get in early and book your tickets. This show will sell out fast.

For further details about La Boite’s season of Ruben Guthrie, see their website: 

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

Bobbi-Lea is's QLD Co-ordinator, writer, reviewer, and reporter. She is also an actor, presenter, and theatre/film producer for Drama Queen Productions in Brisbane. Bobbi-Lea holds a Degree in Music Theatre as well as a Degree in Film & TV, and is currently doing her Masters in Screen Production.

Bobbi-Lea Dionysius

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