Whitely’s Incredible Blue: An Hallucination

 “Everyone reaches a point in their life where they must either change or cease.” Brett Whitely

       Whitely's Incredible Blue“Everyone reaches a point in their life where they must either change or cease.” Brett Whitely                Originally commissioned for the Melbourne Theatre Company back in 2002, Barry Dickens’ play Whitely’s Incredible Blue has critics divided – (AussieTheatre.com’s reviewer was in the ‘Love It’ camp, read review here), but by all accounts, this is one groundbreaking piece of theatre.  Starring Neil Pigot, and accompanied by an improvisational trio of jazz musicians (The Calvert George Fine trio), the show is presented as a part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival at the quirky venue fortyfivedownstairs. Posing the question ‘What lies inside the imagination of an artist and addict?’, the piece traces the final moments of eccentric Australian painter Brett Whitely in an evocative and poetic depiction of Whitely’s remarkable mind, both tormented and free, hurtling toward addiction and destruction in the moment of greatest creative release.  Part hallucination, part celebration, part improvisation and part exploration this hour long work is what Pigot describes as an “informal piece of theatre”. Whitely's Incredible Blue at fortyfivedownstairs “It’s not like a piece of traditional theatre. It has a much more improvised and spontaneous feel about it. I think if you put it in a formal theatre space, there would be an expectation of it to be something that it’s not. So putting it in an informal space allows it to have a life”, he said.  “fortyfivedownstairs is a fantastic space and it absolutely suits this piece. Because it’s an informal piece of theatre, it needs an informal space” he explained, “It just seems to belong in there.”
Set in a kind of purgatory, Pigot plays the tormented Whitely, in the moment leading up to his tragic death at just 53 years of age. The piece is a collaboration between director Julian Meyrick and writer Barry Dickens. “Barry calls it an hallucination. It’s a compression of Whitely’s life, his process, his thoughts and feelings. The world of Brett Whitely, the moment before he died – but it goes for an hour”, said Pigot.  “In a literary sense, Barry has created in words, what Whitely’s paintings and his process were”, he said. 
In essence, Pigot is not merely portraying the man himself, but his imagination, his addiction, his love.  “It’s the whole gamut of things”, he says. 
While the play is about a famous painter, Pigot says that there is no physical reference to Whitely’s art work in the show
“I think if you want to have a look at a Brett Whitley painting then the best thing to do is go to a gallery. But this is about a human being and what it was to be Brett Whitely, not what it is to look at his pictures”, he said.  With such such strong responses to the piece, it begs the question ‘will it have life after the Melbourne Festival?’. Melbourne-based Pigot is quietly hopeful that the show will live to see another day.  “You always hope for these things, but it’s a new piece and it’s really difficult to know. You know, you do a production of Hamlet and you already have a starting point, because there have been thousands of Hamlets, but with something that’s brand new… well you just don’t know”, he laughed. 
Whilst it’s been an exhausting process for all involved, Pigot insists that the rewards outweigh the stress of mounting a new produciton.  Neil Pigot“It’s been incredibly intense but incredibly exciting. I haven’t felt this excited about a piece of work for a long while, and I have a feeling of anticipation which is really special”, he said.  
Pigot is no stranger to the stage, although his introduction into the theatrical world is an interesting one. From a flying instructor at a flying school in regional NSW to a general hand for a small touring company in Goulburn, his ‘big break’ came when a production of The Importance of Being Earnest needed a second-butler-from-the-left. 

“They put me in a monkey suit, and that was the beginning of that!” he chuckled.  “I always wanted to do something creative, but I came from a lower middle class family who wanted me to be a professional. And then they didn’t talk to me for two years because I told them I wanted to become and actor!” And an actor he certainly is: most recognised as Inspector Falcon-Price from TV’s Blue Heelers, Pigot’s career has been nothing short of incredible. Theatre, television, film and documentary projects are all notches on his belt, and he shows no signs of slowing down! “I’ve been doing documentaries for the history channels for the last couple of years, writing and presenting them. I haven’t done much TV for the last few years, and I’m just starting to dig my toes back into that”.  Pigot will be performing in Whitely’s Incredible Blue until October 22, 2011 at fortyfivedownstairs, Melbourne.  Book tickets www.melbournefestival.com.au
General Admission Full $45.00General Admission Group (10+) $40.00General Admission Concession (excl Seniors) $37.50

Producer and presenter: fortyfivedownstairsAssociate director and designer: Meredith RogersLighting designer: Kerry SaxbySound designer: Chris WennStage Manager: Claire ShepherdFeaturing: Neil PigotMusicians: Robert Calvert, Robert George and Pietro Fine
Photos by: Jeff Busby

Erin James

Erin James is AussieTheatre.com's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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