Theatre iNQ will pay homage to one of the most pivotal players in Townsville’s theatrical history, Jean-Pierre Voos, when the company stages an original adaptation of the Greek trilogy, The Oresteia in June.
2018 marks the 10th Anniversary of Jean-Pierre’s passing and, as a past student of the celebrated Director, Terri Brabon was determined to find a fitting tribute to commemorate her mentor and friend.
“One of the big things that Jean-Pierre was famous for was Greek theatre and his European theatre group Kiss, which toured all over the world [and which would ultimately lead him to Townsville, where he would spend his last 25 years establishing a professional theatre presence here] was best known for Greek theatre,” said Terri.
“Ironically, in all the years that I worked with Jean-Pierre, I didn’t do one Greek play with him, so it’s sort of this thing when you’re thinking about celebrating JeanPierre, you think about Greek theatre, but it was not really my experience.”
With so many other people better versed in Greek theatre under Jean-Pierre’s guidance, Terri initially baulked at the idea of taking on Greek theatre herself, looking for other ways to celebrate Jean-Pierre’s legacy.
“I forget what made me circle back to it,” Terri said. “But I thought, ‘maybe I’m going about it all wrong’, because this isn’t his company and I’m not him, but what I can do to feel more connected to him is to be influenced by the same things that influenced him. Perhaps that same source material could be some sort of metaphysical connection.”
Upon this realisation, Terri turned to one of the most famous Greek pieces Jean-Pierre ever worked on – The Oresteia, a trilogy written by one of the most famed Greek playwrights Aeschylus and which follows the story of one family. Agamemnon follows the father of the same name; The Libation Berries follows the daughter, Elektra; and Eumenides or The Furies follows the son, Orestes.
The Trilogy itself was adapted by multiple other Greek playwrights who – perhaps in the earliest wave of Fan Fiction – created prequels and sequels, and serialstyle retellings of the same myth and the House of Atreyus (the family’s name); which meant Terri really had her work cut out for her in mapping out 11 Greek plays and rewriting them into one TheatreiNQ original, titled First Born.
“It is basically a retelling of this amazing ancient Greek, Game of Thrones-kind of family saga,” explains Terri.
“What makes it so compelling is it’s a story about revenge and it’s a story about what happens to people when they feel they’ve been wronged and there’s a sense of vengeance that must take place and what becomes of that even when you do get vengeance.
“At the heart of it is kind of the very first horror story ever written. I find that super exciting. It is dark and a bit creepy, mainly because it deals with the supernatural and because we aren’t setting it in ancient Greece, but we aren’t setting it in modern times either. It sort of has a time of its own; it’s certainly a time where Gods exist and there’s that sense of there being an ‘other’ – something at play, whether you call that fate, or the gods or whatever.”
In true Theatre iNQ style, First Born promises to be a highly visual piece of theatre.
“We’ve done weeks and weeks of creative development on how we can utilise the physicality of our company in terms of the Greek chorus and different physical images and we’ve even started to play with how we can integrate lighting,” Terri said.
“I always try to look for some challenge that we haven’t done before and for ways that we can keep pushing ourselves forward. As soon as I started reading the [original] plays, … I thought this is something that hasn’t been done here and something that we haven’t done or investigated how well we can do it, so let’s have a crack.”
The First Born ensemble includes some of Theatre iNQ’s most popular mainstays including Terri herself, Brendan O’Connor and John ‘Goodo’ Goodson, as well as recent NIDA graduate Emily Edwards.
“Emily was the first casting that was locked in, even before my own,” Terri said. “I knew it was a really good role for her, she’d be perfect in it and it just so happened – since she’s just graduated from NIDA last year – that she’s free to work again. She’s a very passionate person and actress and so the character of Elektra: there’s no nuance about her, she wears her heart on her sleeve, she wears her pain on her sleeve and her grief is visible all over her body and to me Emily, even though she’s young, she can really harvest that sort of emotion, which is difficult.
“We’ve pulled together a whole bunch of young people including The Bridge Project members [Theatre iNQ’s training program] to work on the whole creative development of the Greek chorus.
“In the Greek plays, traditionally all the Greek chorus would speak together, but I don’t want to do that. So we’ve workshopped which voices need to be heard over others and what mouths do these quotes need to come from and how do we make each time the Chorus appears interesting. Really, it’s just a whole bunch of fun theatrical things.”
While Terri is keenly aware that many audiences might find Greek theatre intimidating, or expect it to be tedious, she’s quick to rule out any intention to let the audience be bored during First Born.
“For audience members who are frightened of Greek theatre, just like you’ve been frightened of Shakespeare, trust us!” she said.
“It’s going to be visually memorable and the story is just a really meaty and wonderful … I’m being a bit guarded so I don’t give too much away, but nothing you see is what you think … there’s lots of twists, lots of turns, a surprise finish – all the classics of a horror story I suppose, with the ominous sense of not necessarily seeing the creature from the get-go, but pondering your own demons.”
Following in another great Greek theatre tradition, First Born will require an element of selfreflection from the audience.
“There’s no good guys and bad guys in Greek theatre – they’re all faulty, they’ve all got good and all got bad, just like a normal human,” Terri said.
“Traditionally, it was up to the community to debate the story and decide. That’s something particularly about theatre that I love – I love film and I love television, but you don’t come together like that and chat after a show. And I’m really passionate about theatre, so it’s great for me to go back and go ‘why was this whole thing invented and what was the point?’
“The Greek writers were incredible. They precursed Shakespeare and as much as I love Shakespeare, when I read all the Greek plays, I was like ‘Shakespeare read these too’; with my two loves being Jean-Pierre and Shakespeare, I feel like I’ve boiled right down to the source material that inspired those two geniuses.
“What started as this homage to Jean-Pierre has gone much deeper for me.”
Theatre iNQ will present First Born on 28 June – 7 July at Dancenorth. For tickets, go to theatreinq.com
Dancenorth is supported with funding from Regional Arts Fund, an Australian Government program that is designed to benefit regional and remote arts practitioners, art workers , audiences and communities. TheatreiNQ is a recipient of the Creative Presentation Platform Residency at the Dancenorth Venue.