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I Feel Awful at Billie Brown Studio

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by Judy (subscribe)
A freelance writer and performer living large in Briz Vegas.
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Ever yawned your way through a three hour production of Shakespeare? Think theatre is a big wank? Then this is the show for you.

One of the first events of this year's Brisbane Festival is the play I Feel Awful, a commissioned work by the Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm. The Black Lung are a Melbourne-based theatre company notorious for creating controversial, irreverent pieces that poke fun at high art and self-indulgent theatre.

Like Seinfeld, it really is a show about nothing. There is no plot as such. The show begins in the Black Lung 'nerve centre' a generic arts office. The stage manager is vacuuming. The Black Lung members (Liam Barton, Gareth Davies, Aaron Orzech, Vaczadenjo Wharton-Thomas and Thomas M Wright) play themselves, and sit at their desks, shuffling papers. Then the absurdity begins.

The production features nine theatre students from Griffith University and QUT (in order to tick the 'community involvement' box on the funding form, Wright freely admits to the audience). The students function as a sort of chorus and allow Black Lung to touch on themes of sexual harassment and the abuse of power, which is very relevant in light of the increasing trend of theatre companies hiring, and possibly exploiting, young interns.

There is a cheeky salute to Michael Gow, the former artistic director of Queensland Theatre Company who commissioned the piece. As Gow's reign ended in August last year, the Black Lung have interpreted this as his 'death'. In memoriam, I Feel Awful features a number of short scenes from Gow's own plays, as directed by the Black Lung boys, but in completely inappropriate ways and removed from context. Lesbian themes feature prominently.

If you try to make sense of what is going on, or try to identify some sort of through line, you will fail. Just when you think you have the rules figured out, they change the game. Feeling our confusion, one of the interns asks repeatedly 'When are we going back to the Gow thing?' But the past, and Gow, are dead. Suddenly we are thrust into a sensual assault of glitter cannons and unsettling dance sequences set to Lady Gaga.

The piece feels disjointed and uneven. Some sections work brilliantly, like the introductory sequence where Davies talks to a pre-recorded version of himself and ends up beating himself up. Simple but hilarious. And the scene where one of the students discovers he can stop time. Overall, I would have liked to see less from the students and more from the Black Lung troupe themselves. Wright in particular, who also wrote, directed and designed the piece, is a compelling dark clown and Davies has a cheeky Hamish Blake quality.

For a lot of the piece, I found myself asking, how did they get away with that? In the space of one hour, they basically give the finger to QTC, Michael Gow, the audience and theatre in general. Even the program takes the piss out of environmental awareness, comprising mostly blank pages, but it's okay because it's 'made out of oak'.

I Feel Awful won't change your life, but then that is not its intention. It is however a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Just surrender to the anarchy and enjoy the ride.
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Why? Because theatre isn't brain surgery
When: Tues - Sat until 10 Sep 2011
Where: Bille Brown Studio, Queensland Theatre Company, West End, Brisbane
Cost: Adult $35, Concession $28, Under 30s $30
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