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Poison by Lot Vekemans - Metro Arts Brisbane

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by Helen McDonald (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer in Brisbane, Australia.
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An articulate depiction of the poison of grief
Poison Play Lot Vekemans Metro Art Elise Grieg Matthew Doueal Art Brisbane
Poison Actors, Elise Grieg and Paul Bishop. Photo taken by Matthew Doueal


This month, E.G. and Metro Arts are bringing the world-class play, Poison, to Brisbane. This is the first time production of Poison on Australian soil. Written by one of Holland's most renowned contemporary playwrights, Lot Vekemans, Poison has been an international success since first premiering in 2009. Credited to its popularity and poetic genius, Poison has collected numerous awards across Europe and has since been translated into 15 languages.

Delicately depicted, Poison exposes the raw human emotions of grief, betrayal and anguish. It shares with the audience an intense story of ex-husband and wife reuniting after 10 years of separation. They are confronted with a moral dilemma and associated emotional turmoil; they must decide whether or not to relocate the body of their deceased son.

A mysterious poison has leeched into the soil of the grave-site, a poison which is symbolically emphasized by the title of the play, and an emotional poison which plays an insidious undertone throughout the play; that is, the effects of grief on bereaved individuals and their relationships.

It's not just the title that holds multiple interpretations. There are many poetic layers within Poison, some more subtle than others. The characters, He and She, do not have names as such. This may seem peculiar at first, but is extremely clever when you realise the intention behind it. You see, names carry preconceptions. Preconceptions that create false profiles and story-lines in our minds, story-lines that would detract from the experience Vekemans intended. The play is about witnessing and exploring the raw emotions of grief. One could say that grief is the protagonist.

Another subtle touch is the stage design. At first, it may appear simple and minimalistic, perhaps to focus attention on the complex artistic expression of grief. However, when you come to realise what the rings of circles on the ground symbolise, the stage then becomes another imaginary layer of grief. The circles symbolise the 'Circle of Grief' or 'Ring Theory', a concept created by psychologists Silk and Goldman.

The distance from the centre circle represents the emotional distance you are from the grief. Those in the centre ring are faced with the full wrath of the eye of the emotional storm. With no walls or corners to seek shelter; there is a perception of there being nowhere to hide. The inner circle is where one is most vulnerable and is forced to confront their rawest innermost thoughts and emotions.

The passion and dedication to sensitively convey the story of Poison is evident when you hear the cast and production team discuss the play. Their ambition is shared with the that of the vision of Metro Arts and Jo Thomas: to bring to Brisbane the best of what the world stage has to offer and to place it in the palms of our hands.

Poison has taken many long hours of preparation for local artists, Elise Greig (Producer and Actor, She) and Paul Bishop (Actor, He) as they intimately explored the multiple facets of the seven stages of grief so as to deliver to us an extraordinary theatre experience. The audience will also observe the intricately complex relationship shared between She and He. Though the play hints at a once deep love now lost, there is the reality of frustrations, perceptions, unmet expectation, feelings of betrayal and how time changes us all, that also play a part in how She and He interact.

Director, Catarina Hebbard, has also poured her heart and soul into the production to ensure that the play is given the justice it deserves. It takes true talent and genius to encapsulate and authentically reproduce an intricate play such as Poison.

In an interview with Director, Cat, I asked about her thoughts on grief and if it can ever be resolved. Cat described grief as like acquiring an invisible passenger who stays with you for the rest of your life. Not apparent on the outside, but always present within, they have the ability to poke you every now and then at unexpected moments. Random and seemingly insignificant triggers can instantly spark memory of the person or thing lost. It could be as simple as a resemblance in the look in a stranger's eyes, hearing a laugh or a moment whilst stirring your tea. Grief manifests itself differently for everyone, but one thing we all share is that it changes us forever. Grief isn't an intrinsically good or bad thing, it simply permanently influences how you react and respond to the world.

Recognition should also be given to local talent, Raymond Milner for the ingenious artistic set design, Tony Byrne (Sound Design) and Lauren Sallaway (Lighting Design) for provoking a deeper connect with She, He and grief. Special recognition should also go to Carli Griffin (Stage Manager), Kerith Atkinson (Assistant Director) and Aaron Dora (Producing and Marketing Assistant) for bringing the play to life.

Poison will be running from 9th to 19th May at the Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts at 109 Edward Street, Brisbane. Ticket can be purchased online with prices ranging from $28 general admission to $20 concession admission. Companion card tickets are also available. A link to ticket sales can be found at www.metroarts.com.au/events/poison/

There is a Bar in the foyer of Metro Arts which serves pre-performance drinks. Every cup sold supports the range of Metro Arts' programs and activities targeting independent artists.

As further testimony to the brilliance of this play, there are future plans for English and Dutch film adaptations. I encourage you to take the opportunity to see this live play whilst you have the opportunity as there are moments and subtleties that can only be experienced on the open stage.
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*Helen McDonald was invited as a guest
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When: 9 - 19 May 2018
Phone: 07 3002 7100
Where: Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts, 109 Edward St Brisbane QLD 4000
Cost: $28 General admission, $20 Concession
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by Helen McDonald on 16/05/2018
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