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St Mary's in Exile

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by Kiesten McCauley (subscribe)
My early career was in teaching, writing, producing and directing for theatre, comedy and impro shows. Now I'm a professional creative person. Mostly high-end branding, strategy, writing, editing and digital content creation.
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A Tale of a Father, Faith, and Falling Out of Favour
st, saint, marys, exile, queensland, theatre, company, billie, brown, peter, kennedy
L-R Kevin Spink, Peter Marshall, Luisa Prosser and Bryan Proberts in St Mary's in Exile

He let women in the pulpit, blessed same sex couples, and welcomed people of all faiths to worship at his little church in West End, and now the story of Brisbane's infamous Catholic priest, Father Peter Kennedy, is being played out on stage. St Mary's in Exile tells the locally grown tale that made international news when Father Kennedy was ousted from his post as leader of an over 700 person strong, vocal, and devoted congregation. Poetically, the performances are staged at Queensland Theatre Company's Billie Brown Studio, just 300 metres up the road from where it all took place in 2009.

cast, director, writer, st, saint, marys, exile, queensland, theatre, company, brisbane
L-R cast members Bryan Proberts, Ben Warren, Joss Mcwilliam, Luisa Prosser, Peter Marshall, Kevin Spink, and Chenoa Deemal. Director Jason Klarwein and Playwright David Burton.

set, saint, mary, exile, queensland, theatre, company, brisbane, anthony, spinaze
Anthony Spinaze's minimalist set design allows the human stories to shine.

"There's stuff in this play that wasn't reported to the press at the time," confesses playwright David Burton, "There's a few surprises for people."

Burton has spent the last two years getting the inside story, interviewing the real life subjects, and honing the script which is lovingly being brought to life by a strong cast of professionals including some perfect casting in Peter Marshall as Father Kennedy.

I was lucky enough to attend a media call during which we were treated to a performance of a scene from the play. The staging is well balanced and there are some very clever set design pieces that offer up little surprises along the way. The real star of the show isn't the lovely minimal set or even the perfect lighting and sound. The human story, humour and relationships are what are most captivating.

"I came in to the process thinking I was writing a David and Goliath standard, very 'rough and tumble spiritual underdogs' against a 'big bad empire'," says Burton, "But what was underneath it was a congregation which was of course very complex with a lot of human stories underneath it and a huge range of different experiences."

"So the play's breadth is quite wide. We talk about theology; we talk about looking for spiritual significance and meaning; and we talk about how our institutions operate in the 21st century and what contemporary religious organisations should look and feel like and how they should prioritise; and I ended up really really striving to make sure the play didn't answer any of those questions."

The show is in great directorial hands too under the guidance of one of QTC's strongest directors and a great actor in his own right, Jason Klarwein. He admits he learned a lot about religion and in particular Catholicism during the play's development, having come to the piece from a secular background.

"When I first came to the script I was like, 'Hmm will I understand this?'" says Klarwein, "But I completely understand it."

"It's kind of a thriller in some ways because you sort of try to work out what's going to happen next. Even if you kind of know the story, you're kind of going, 'Hmmm how's that going to go down?'"

That's because you don't have to be religious in order to appreciate St Mary's in Exile. The play doesn't take sides, and instead serves to simply tell the truth of the tale without demonising the church or Father Kennedy.

"A lot of it is verbatim," Peter Marshall says of the dialogue in the script, "So Peter Kennedy's words are coming out of my mouth."

There's something extra special about seeing our own, home grown stories on stage. Many of the audience members who have attended preview performances have been moved to tears, others have seen their own lives writ large on stage.

"It's a play that poses a lot of questions from all sides," says Burton, "It's a play that doesn't take sides."

"I hope it's very universal that people can come to the play and each get something out of it and go home asking some interesting questions and having some interesting discussions. Plus, I just think it's huge. It was a schism that happened in the Catholic Church, which depending on how you look at it hasn't really happened at this level since the eleventh century and it happened just up the road. It was a tremendous event of international significance and it's been really wonderful to write about it and to get great responses so far and to get to work with this amazing group of people."

St Mary's in Exile is playing until 25th September, so book yourself a pew now.

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Why? See a Home Grown Story on Stage
When: 27 August - 25 September 2016
Phone: (07) 3010 7600
Where: Billie Brown Studio, QTC, 78 Montague Rd, South Brisbane QLD 4101
Cost: $33-$59
Your Comment
I remember this story well, Kiesten, so would be good to get a different perspective from the one portrayed by the media! Great article!
by Elaine (score: 3|6357) 1046 days ago
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