Returning to an empty house following the death of a parent is how Mordecai MacAllister decided to make sense of it all. In her case, this is nothing short of explosive - the memories, the thoughts, the realisation of what took place and the ramifications that came from behaviour uncovered from the distant past, is all that Mordecai MacAllister has to deal with.
And perhaps we should warn you, Mordecai is a little upset, not just because she has to return to Brisbane to an empty house with her father's remains, but because she has been lambasted by a reviewer. She does not take kindly to his words and the insinuations that arise from them. She is fiery, outspoken and fearless. Her daughter, who we never meet, but is always on the end of the phone, adds to some of the frustrations that she, Mordecai expresses in colourful and ***** language.
Mordecai who is played by Barbara Lowing is a feisty and angry character. Perhaps she is so because of her family or despite them. Her heritage is one which she has a lot of difficulty coming to terms with, and that is not surprising as the play unfolds scene after scene of her life as a young child growing up in an explosive and sometimes violent household. Her mam was a sweet and passionate woman who was "loved " by her violent and abusive husband. The take away image of the two is them shouting at the tops of their voices in ... a very strange language, Romani, and then occasionally slipping into what appears to be Scottish. Who knew there were Scottish Romani people who clearly made their way across the continents from India ... but this is what we are told.
The spectre of her raging parents in the background
The play is able to reveal more of her childhood and the traumas suffered through a journal of hers and that of her mothers. That is when we are introduced to Splinters, played by Michael Mandalios who in my view is brilliant as the young hapless, straight speaking, often funny young friend that Mordecai met as she and he were about to go to high school. He can barely read, she is the bright spark but he is the one who is pushing Mordecai to find out more about why the father came to Australia and what lies beneath the anger and the violence, the secrecy and the deceit. He is the one to inject humour in this otherwise quite angry and explosive play and that despite his own terrible past and trauma.
Magpie and Splinter are given cause, through the journals, to uncover the dark secrets that lay in their respective lives and those of their families, all with devastating consequences and results. The consequences for Mordecai are not only in relation to her past but also projected in her own future and that of her daughter. There are strong words uttered which are an undisputed expression to get rid of, destroy and vanquish her history- there is nothing that she wants to keep, nothing that is precious to her. Certainly, nothing she can be proud of.
She has to lay down those demons and come to grips with the reality and her very unhappy past and in doing so, perhaps she has a better understanding of her own journey and that of her daughters. There is a strong sense that she has come through this and comes out stronger the other side, though I would not want to add any more for fear of revealing too much.
The actors are very charged up with their roles but none more so than Mordecai and she holds the audience's attention throughout. Splinters stage presence is a driving force for Mordecai in discovering more of the dark past but also acts as a medium for the lighter moments in the play.
One of the scenes I liked best was an interaction between the two of them in a carefree moment. He was on a swinging tyre and the light reflected the blues and green of rippling water - there was a calm and collective meeting of minds which was memorable. The stage set was simple, if rather dark, ( perhaps almost as a representation of the darkness of their Romani lives) but it enabled the characters to move in and out of the present and past very effectively.
We are reminded early on, that this is Brisbane and the Magpie was the mam's favourite bird not only because of its sweet song but because they are caring and clever birds. The parents are protective of their young but the young fly the coop early, a bit like Mordecai who couldn't wait to get out at 14.
Seeing her coming back and dealing with all her demons of days past and traumas suffered can be a cathartic experience and even creative and this is what the play ultimately gives us.
This is an exciting new play by Brisbane Playwright Elise Greig and one which will hold audiences throughout because of strong and heartfelt performances by the cast ably directed by Ian Lawson. Magpie makes its world premiere at Brisbane Powerhouse's Visy Theatre from 29 May – 8 June, in partnership with Metro Arts and Playlab.