Queensland Theatre's Once In Royal David's City: Exploring Our Purpose

Published in Arts  
Who are we, what are we doing here, and why is it so?

Queensland Theatre and Black Swan State Theatre Company's presentation of 'Once In Royal David's City' explores all of these questions and more, following the ups and downs of theatre director Will as he discovers his recently-widowed mother has fallen ill.

Jason Klarwein, who plays Will, talks about the production.

This show deals a lot with inner turmoil and wondering what our purpose is in the world. What about it resonates with you personally?
Like all good theatre, the play entertains while asking the fundamental question “what does it mean to be a human being?”. The show explores our purpose in life against our mortality. It deals with the death of a parent and the ‘aloneness’ of human existence. As bleak as this may sound the show is very engaging and at times a hilarious ride.

What do you think you bring to the production?
It’s my job to guide the audience through the play in a welcoming and gentle way. It's a very large role with a responsibility to the audience, the actors on stage, the Director Sam Strong and the writer Michael Gow. I hope I bring a unifying calmness and strength. My character Will Drummond is a Director, which is what I do when I'm not acting.



You're friends with Michael Gow, the show's playwright. How did that friendship begin, and what is it like to be starring in one of his shows?
I've know Michael as a friend and colleague for over 17 years. I first met Michael at an audition for Queensland Theatre in 1999. I didn’t get the job but the next year Michael became the Artistic Director and I was cast in his first two shows – 'The Skin of Our Teeth' and 'Shopping and Fucking' (alternatively spelt F$$$ing). I have been directed by Michael seven times and appeared in two of his adaptations. It is a great honour to be in this show. Michael is one of Australia’s great playwrights and his writing has a beautiful economy.

Can you relate 'Once In Royal David's City' to anything else you've ever done? If so, how?
It reminds me of the first production I did with Michael Gow – Thornton Wilder’s 'The Skin of Our Teeth'. 'The Skin of Our Teeth' was a radical play written in 1942 about a series of cataclysmic events that take place to a family of the human race. The characters talk to the audience, the stage manager appears on stage and the set appears to be falling down. This kind of theatrical ‘reality’ is used to great effect in 'Once In Royal David’s City' and is a calling card of Michael Gow’s more recent work.

What's the dynamic like in this production? What is the mood surrounding it from beginning to end?
The show, among other things, is a celebration of the theatre. The beginning is an eclectic ride through my character’s brain. It's fast and funny. Then the play gets very moving. Lots of audience members cry. It’s a very moving play.



Tell us a bit about your fellow cast members. Have you worked with any of them before? What have rehearsals been like?
This is a co-production between Queensland Theatre and Black Swan State Theatre Company so the cast are half from Queensland and half from Western Australia. I’ve met some new colleagues from WA who I admire very much. The cast also includes Queenslanders Kaye Stevenson and Penny Everingham. I’ve been watching Kaye and Penny all my professional life and I'm very grateful to be treading the boards with them again.

What makes Sam Strong's artistic direction shine in this show?
Sam is a fantastic Director. He is a combination of opposites – a relaxed perfectionist. His direction is incredibly detailed, clear and simple, whilst being clever. He runs a very diligent but happy rehearsal room. I have a great admiration for him.

What is something that 'Once In Royal David's City' couldn't be 'Once In Royal David's City' without?
Christmas Carols. Including the carol, 'Once in Royal David’s City'. The clever sound design by Ash Gibson Greig is peppered with christmas carols. Even when you think you’re listening to some random music, it’s a christmas carol reworked. Its a lot of fun.



To a theatre newbie, how might you describe 'Once In Royal David's City’?
It’s a cross between the Academy Award-winning film 'Birdman' and Shakespeare’s 'Hamlet' with a bit of Christmas kitsch thrown in.

'Once In Royal David's City' plays Queensland Performing Arts Centre from 22 April-14 May.

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