Two very different people with two very different paths meet by chance in the night. One of them, Libby, is a middle-aged playwright whose inspiration has run dry – the other, Declan, a troubled teenager with a talent buried deep within.
'Mouthpiece' by Kieran Hurley and presented by Queensland Theatre, explores this dynamic and the line between inspiration and theft, when Libby considers telling Declan's story using her voice.
The production stars stage luminary Christen O'Leary and, making his Queensland Theatre debut, Jayden Popik.
Queensland Theatre Artistic Director Lee Lewis chats to us about the show, the long-awaited return of theatre to Queensland, and the importance of a good stage story. What's it been like to be back preparing for shows after this forced hiatus?!
SO GOOD! Actually starting to make plays as opposed to speculating about when it will be possible again. . . It is so good. You can feel the team excited to be doing the thing they are so good at and we are so thrilled to start bringing the artists back into the building again. It was so much heartbreaking work to un-programme a season, to un-sell tickets, to un-do contracts, that moving forward again feels like breathing fresh air again after being shut up in a box. Of course it’s like trying to put the billycart together again with only three wheels but she’ll be right! And what makes 'Mouthpiece' worthy of being perhaps the first show some Queensland audiences will be seeing live in a theatre post-lockdown?
This beautiful play is theatrically brave and asks us big questions about why we make theatre in the first place. We wanted to come back with work that matters, not just something light and fluffy and escapist. So 'Mouthpiece' is perfect. It is a love letter to theatre in a way, one where the relationship allows us to be very honest. It has brutal honesty and big heart. . . Isn’t that what we have missed so much? How would you describe the show's plot?
Boy meets girl. Boy saves girl. Girl uses boy and lies to herself about it. Boy calls her on it publicly. As Artistic Director of Queensland Theatre, what, in your opinion, makes a good play?
A good play is a story told at the right time in a way that connects to the audience vividly so as to leave an impression on them that will last beyond the performance. It is the successful communication of an idea by the playwright through the performers to the community they wish to reach.
L-R: Lee Lewis, Christen O'Leary, Jayden Popik
What's been the biggest challenge in preparing to put on this show, considering the current climate?
Planning for the safety of the artists and the safety of the audience has been the highest priority. Knowing that these plans will have to adapt to changing conditions that we can only anticipate is tricky. Managing the fears that there will be another outbreak, that we will have to shut down again, or that a team or audience member may become sick is important, while moving forward hopefully. Maintaining a realistic – not fantastical – optimism is the biggest challenge. On the other side of that, what's been the most rewarding thing about it?
The best thing is watching the extraordinary team at Queensland Theatre working so hard together to navigate this crisis and hold the company together no matter what difficulties they have been also managing at home. Their dedication to making sure there will be a Queensland Theatre no matter what the challenges is really moving. They say you only really get to know people in a crisis. . . Well the people I have got to know this year are really inspiring. Tell us a little bit about the two stars, Christen O'Leary and Jayden Popik, for those who may be unfamiliar.
Queensland audiences have enjoyed Christen’s performances for many years – she is one of our great leading actors so we trust that every time we see her on the stage she will deliver a great performance. I think this play is a great challenge that she will relish. Jayden is making his Queensland Theatre debut. He’s a Townsville boy who has come back home after years in Melbourne. A lot of families have been talking about how one of the silver linings of COVID has been family members returning home. . . Well I’m sure Jayden’s family is looking forward to seeing him on the Playhouse stage. One of the great things about bringing two actors together who don’t know each other is that they can challenge each other in new ways. I think they will be a great team on stage. Why do you think theatre is such an important part of people's lives?
Theatre is one of the ways we come together as a community and imagine our futures together. Sharing stories is how we weave our lives together in a particular place and time. Without theatre we grow more lonely and afraid. There is a beautiful description of why theatre is so important inside 'Mouthpiece', written by a playwright who articulates it far better than I could! Come and see it. What, for you, is the ideal reaction to 'Mouthpiece'?
I want the lights to go out at the end and then after the applause and a safe exit from the theatre, I want there to be passionate conversations about what the play was about. The conversation at the end is what theatre is all about. I want people to stand 1.5m away from their friends and talk for hours! And I want Kieran Hurley, the playwright, to know that his play worked on the other side of the world. That is one of the ways we can talk with friends and family around the world in a time when we cannot get on a plane. And the best reaction is telling a friend that they have to see it because it is a great night in the theatre.
'Mouthpiece' is on at Queensland Performing Arts Centre 31 October-14 November.