Good old fashioned story-telling, where everything old is new again.
New work by intergenerational theatre company, Force of Circumstance (FOC), He Dreamed a Train is an unassuming gem in the crown of Brisbane Theatre, and so is Margi Brown Ash.
The play opens with a natural simplicity; Margi (as Margi) enters a country cottage, apple-in-mouth, as she wrestles with the house keys. After unpacking her things and making a cup of tea in silence except for a subtle bushland soundscape, she begins to tell a story – her story. A story about a sister dealing with the terminal illness of her brother; the two-hander play explores the relationship between siblings, childhood memories, dreams (complete with dragons), family, love, and loss.
Margi is engaging as she shares with us her special brand of theatre-making that offers the actor as themselves, with a humility and openness to connect with our heart and the commonality of human existence. At once, the theatre auditorium is transformed and I feel I’m sitting at a campfire where a story is being passed from the elder, down through the generations.
Produced by Margi’s intergenerational theatre company, Force of Circumstance (FOC), it is fitting that her son Travis Ash joins her onstage playing the role of Margi’s brother David, at 23 years of age. A highlight was Travis’ ‘Tim Minchin’ moment at the piano which displayed a wild irreverence that only a skilled musician could pull off.
Directed and devised by Benjamin Knapton with co-devisers Margi Brown Ash and Travis Ash, the work defies convention and categorisation as two seemingly opposing elements – traditional story-telling and experimental multi-media – collide and complement as the language takes on a poetic nature and the visual elements, a dream-like (sometimes nightmarish) state.
Using the entire country house set (designed with beautiful detail by Benjamin Knapton), as a projector wall with the house being projected back onto itself, as well as video playback of the two siblings at the piano, gave an edge to the production.
There was also a landscape picture frame, which struck me as I took in the aesthetic of the set – part of it seemed to eerily glow. I was wondering if my mind was playing tricks, or the artist was particular talented with the use of light. Then it seemed to be raining in the picture. Is it the theatre lights? Then the picture melted out of the frame and down the wall. Kudos goes to audio visual designer Benjamin Knapton and AV content creator Nathan Sibthorpe for messing with my head. Their visuals in the painting and across the whole set were stunning, unnerving, and thoroughly engaging.
Written By Margi Brown Ash with text extracts taken from her brother’s book of the same name, He Dreamed a Train is an intimate work that requires full concentration for the entire one-act show, as you can miss the meaning in moments of dense poetic language. And even though some may think this is a relatively short piece at seventy minutes, the timing is just about right, and is indeed a welcome trend for new works, which are made to accommodate the i-generation.
He Dreamed a Train is an imaginative telling of a simple yet profound personal story and is not intended for a main stream super-size me audience, but for the thoughtful theatre goer who enjoys immersing themselves in the new, the experimental, in the wash of a thematic idea, and the heart of a true story.
He Dreamed a Train was produced as a part of the Brisbane Powerhouse creative development program, SWEET, at the Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse.