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Tequila Mockingbird at Cremorne Theatre, QPAC

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
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Land of the fair go or the race riot?
Source: Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC)

Harper Lees's "To Kill A Mockingbird" is set in the Great Depression in a dying country town in Alabama. Atticus Finch is appointed by the court to defend a black man, accused of rape. The town's red-necks call him a "nigger-lover" and, although Atticus Finch shows that the black man's accusers are lying, he is convicted.

Nelle Lee's "Tequila Mockingbird" is set in a dying small town in Australia, to which an Indian doctor comes. His parents have advised him not to come to Australia because they have heard that it is racist, but he decides to come. He meets a lawyer (Bryan Probets) and his alienated teenage son (Nick Skabu) who have come back to the town after a disastrous marriage break-up.

Source: Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC)
Used with permission

In the town there is a run-down pub, run by a foul-mouthed larger than life terrible cook, played by Barbara Lowing, who adores her drunken, abusive out of work son, played by Ross Balbuziente, and cannot stand his girl-friend, played by Nelle Lee, who is also the playwright.

The girlfriend, initially reluctant to see the Indian doctor, presents with a possible broken wrist, which she says is the result of a fall, but the doctor suspects abuse. His courtesy and empathy impress her, and she consults him again. After an abusive blazing row with her boyfriend, she is sitting outside crying. The doctor meets her, and offers to walk her home. Flash forward, and the doctor is being accused of rape. The lawyer agrees to defend him, which the red-necks see as betrayal.

Source: Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC)
Used with permission

This is a superbly acted drama, with a very well crafted script. It is confronting challenging us, viewed against the background of race riots, and the boat people debate, as to whether we are the people of the "fair go".

The cast catches the humanity and the humour of small-town life brilliantly, which makes the contrast all the more telling as it all goes bad.

Barbara Lowing on stage is a force of nature the earth mother from Hades full of gutsy laughter, protective as a lioness, and totally convincing in her viciousness towards her son's girlfriend, and in her racism towards the doctor. Bryan Probets captures the idealist lawyer, struggling to do the best for his son, and determined to uphold the law in his defence of the doctor.

Shannon Haegler's portrayal of the immaculately presented, empathetic, somewhat nave doctor captures our hearts. Nelle Lee manages to be both feisty and vulnerable as the abused girl-friend who warms to the gentle courtesy of Dr Sameer.
Full marks too, to Nelle Lee for not going for a "feel-good" resolution. We were totally engaged throughout this powerful well crafted, well acted, well directed play.

"Shake and Stir" has a very creditable record as a young theatre company over 500 school performances, and superb productions of 1984 and Animal Farm. This may well be their most ambitious project, and it works very well.

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Why? Brilliant, engaging, confronting theatre
When: 21 August - 7th September
Phone: 3358 6025
Where: Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
Cost: $ 30 - $ 52
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