Perth theatre-maker Jeffrey Jay Fowler is pushing boundaries at Black Swan State Theatre Company with his latest directorial pursuit, 'The Eisteddfod' written by Lally Katz.
The story focuses on the relationship between brother and sister Abalone and Gerture as they both navigate painful childhood experiences through the medium of imaginary role-playing.
“It's a very unusual story about an adult brother and sister in their 30s who at the same time are children, and they replay again and again the story of their parents and previous relationships. The brother Abalone is practising to perform in an eisteddfod. The ideas in the play are about how we grow up but we never get rid of our childhood, we never quite get rid of the imagination and the fucked up things that happened to us. It's an incredibly funny way of looking at that, but there's also this dark undertone of incest and the cycle of familial violence that replay the abusive relationship their parents had.”
'The Eisteddfod' was written by Lally Katz, a Melbourne indie playwright who Jeffrey says has an incredible knack for dealing with dark and confronting themes in a humorous and accessible way.
“Lally Katz is a very strange playwright and I first saw her work in Melbourne,” Jeffrey says. “Lally Katz's writing I find very incredibly humorous, very dark and very aggressive with its audience which I enjoy. She's very relentless. The story is so irreverent and wild, and she deals with dark things in such a firework fashion, and I feel like she gets away with a lot of the content. I also feel it's a play where what you bring to the audience is going to be reflected back to you.”
Though layered in a veil of seemingly innocent childhood imagination, ‘The Eisteddfod’ is a provocative and confronting piece, and Jeffrey is adamant the time is right for it to be brought to the stage. “It was very interesting when we ran the audition,” he says. “A lot of people were really confronted by the script and we had a lot of actors in the audition say 'I don’t understand what this play is about at all'."
“It's one I’ve been sitting on and wanting to do for five years… I really believe in this piece. The first time I pitched [it] I think was in 2011 and it never quite fit into the season or they had other projects they wanted me to work on.”
Having become a creative theatrical force as a writer, actor and director, Jeffrey makes no apologies for the play’s themes or its production at Black Swan. He says theatre, especially public theatre, has a responsibility to convey relevant social commentary, as well as entertain.
“It's a very risky thing for Black Swan to programme; it's unlike anything they’ve done for years,” Jeffrey says. “This is the show I’ve been burning to do for so long, so I have a lot of hope pressed on it. I feel like you get so few chances in the theatre to put work on at the state-theatre level… There's a great responsibility if you're an artist paid by the government to be creating something that is for people, is worthy, and isn't just satisfying your own feeling. It has to be part of a cultural conversation.”
‘The Eisteddfod’ runs from 22 June-9 July at State Theatre Centre.