Something sensational is happening in Ipswich; a cultural revolution of sorts at the hands of independent theatre company Fractal Theatre and Artistic Director Brenna Lee-Cooney.
This is a call-out to all Brisbanites who claim to support independent theatre. Ipswich is not as far away as you remember from your horse-and-cart youth and there is something going on out there that is well worth supporting.
In their second book-to-stage adaptation for the year, Fractal has developed another story that explores the ever-present dark side of the Australian identity – The Untouchable Juli by James Alderidge. It is 1930, depression-era Australia, and the talented but slightly odd teenager Juli Christo (Samuel Valentine) must carry the burden of rural small-mindedness as he negotiates life as an outsider. The prodigious, mixed-race child of single parent, bible-beating mother (Gertrude Benjamin) appears mysteriously in a rural town and proceeds to threaten the locals with his unusual but harmless behaviour. The well-meaning convictions of his mother do little to ease his alienation.
Kit Quayle (Eamonn Clohesy) regales the audience with the colourful story of Christo’s life and their burgeoning friendship, reflecting humorously on his (Kit’s) sensual reaction to Mrs Christo and the foreign-ness of her nurturing bosom and his delight in watching his friend discover music in a backwards and round-about way. But tragedy strikes Juli hard and his fate falls into the hands of his one and only ally. At his son’s request, Kit’s lawyer father undertakes Juli’s defence against charges of murder. To save his life however, Mr Quayle must expose Juli’s soul and that may be just as ruinous to him as the gallows.
Fractal under the direction of Lee-Cooney, adorn themselves in the nuances of their craft. Even such mundane things as prop changes are treated with visual poetry. To come away from a production enamoured with the way a table is brought to the stage is a wonder, and the handling of that table loaded it with a power that reveals itself at the pinnacle of the play.
After a few nervous opening-night gaffs, the cast performed well. Stand-out moments came from Samuel Valentine as Juli, Sandro Colarelli extending from humour to horror between an inept copper and a self-proclaimed prophet, and Lisa Hickey was delightful in numerous roles. A Chaplinesque tug-o-war between the caricature police officer (Sandro) and Juli shows-up Fractal’s skill for injecting moments of hilarity in what would otherwise be tension, creating a clever view of life in another’s shoes – in this instance the absurdness of being accused of the theft of something that was thrown away, as Juli clings defiantly to the junk-heap accordion that would end up costing he and his mother dearly.
We are constantly decrying the infiltration of foreign productions and stories that lock local talent out of our playhouses, but great, independent artists are still out there doing their thing and they need our support.
The Untouchable Juli is playing at Studio 188 until July 25 (check-out the very funky Nu Orleans on Limestone Street for dinner).
The production will then transfer to the Sandgate Town Hall from July 31. Keep an eye out on the Fractal website or follow them on Facebook to keep up with their latest news.