Brisbane was home to two of Australia’s most notorious institutions in the 1970s and 1980s: the Bjelke-Petersen government and Boggo Road Gaol.
The Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble’s latest production, the premiere of 'Bogga' by Rob Pensalfini portrays the life of the gaol against the backdrop of the decline and fall of Joh’s regime.
Told in the words of former officers and inmates of Boggo Road, drawn from oral histories collected by Brisbane historian Chris Dawson, the foremost expert on the gaol’s history, 'Bogga' recounts daily life, riots, corruption, drug and sex scandals, murders and suicides.
We asked some questions of the cast and crew.
In your own words/from your perspective... What's it about?
Ellen Hardisty (Actor): 'Bogga' takes the words of the prisoners and guards and puts them onto the stage. You'll have a completely fresh (non-Hollywood) understanding of prison life.
Rob Pensalfini (Writer): A dark and tumultuous time in our recent history, when ideas about who we were and how we want to treat one another were changing.
Rebecca Murphy (Director): It's about big things – politics, local history, bureaucracy and also very personal things – the events and people we remember, and the stories and details, that sometimes surprisingly, stay with us.
What's your experience of working on the play so far?
James Elliott (Actor): The verbatim dialogue is really fun to speak. I have enjoyed rediscovering the melody that the Australian accent inherently has.
Ellen Hardisty (Actor): As a prisoner in the show, I feel quite separate to the officers. It's been hugely interesting to hear these massive (often gruesome) stories told in such a matter-of-fact way.
Whats your favourite line and why?
James Elliott (Actor): “They put butter over the locks and so forth, they smeared faeces over the locks!” (Officer #3). My character has a special affiliation with faeces throughout the play. Ellen Hardisty (Actor): “You've got to go in there to understand that there's predators, if you're weak, if you've got a weakness they find it, but be on your guard and mind your own business, it's fairly easy to get by.”
Rebecca Murphy (Director): I'm not sure I have a favourite line, there are lines that make my stomach turn and lines that make me laugh out loud, I enjoy them equally! I always enjoy hearing “but that'll never be printed”... It's printed and being spoken in a public production!
What do you want the audience to leave thinking/feeling?
Rob Pensalfini (Writer): “What does our treatment of those who transgress say about who we are as a society? How resilient is the human spirit? What breaks it? Does power always breed corruption?
Rebecca Murphy (Director): How did we treat our fellow human beings? How do we treat the people we can't see and often don't hear from? In this case the play is specifically about prisoners and guards but these questions extend beyond that.