Deep in the heart of the Tasmanian wilderness, an ecological crisis is unfolding. A facial tumour disease is decimating Tasmanian devil populations and one dedicated environmental scientist will do almost anything to protect them. But first, there is the small matter of a human corpse to dispose of...
Such is the startling premise which opens The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek at La Boite, the theatre company's first play of the 2018 season. This biting black comedy by Brisbane's own actor-turned-playwright Kathryn Marquet takes a joyful romp through a range of issues including climate change, environmental extremism, racism and self-preservation - but somehow this eclectic mixture gels.
La Boite & Playlab's The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek. Pictured L-R John Batchelor, Emily Weir, Julian Curtis. Image by Dylan Evans.
During the opening minutes of The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek, we're introduced to environmental scientist George Templeton (played by Emily Weir) cradling an infant devil in her arms. Sharing her cramped cabin is ranger Harris Robb (Julian Curtis), Templeton's thwarted suitor and the star of a failed television series who faces in the unenviable task of reigning in a feral dog plague. Robb's trip to the outhouse, during which he stumbles (quite literally) over a man shot through the head by his hoped-for paramour, is the catalyst for the ensuing tense and hilarious action.
Marquet penned The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek in horrified fascination at humanity's response to the climate crisis. 'Truth and knowledge (are) being eroded by political agendas and corporate lobbying, by the democratic-information-sharing platform that is the internet, by a mindset of anti-intellectualism and scepticism of expert knowledge,' she says.
Similar frustrations are explored in other artistic works such as Guardians of the Earth, screening at this year's Transitions Film Festival, but Marquet wraps her serious message in mirth to make it more palatable. 'The world seems completely absurd to me: we're in a burning building and we're standing around the water coolers looking at Facebook,' she adds.
La Boite & Playlab's The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek. Pictured L-R Kimie Tsukakoshi, Julian Curtis. Image by Dylan Evans.
The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek features a solid and coherent cast of four. Though tied to a chair for the majority of the action Mickey O'Toole (John Batchelor) has a commanding presence while Destinee Lee (Kimie Tsukakoshi) also shines. Razor-sharp dialogue underpins the fast-paced action occurring in a single space and real time. A host of comedic techniques, including slapstick and sight gags, ensure audience members are still catching their breath from the last round of laughs before the next ones unfold.
Marquet developed The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek while engaged as Playwright-in-Residence at writing incubator Playlab. Director and dramaturg Ian Lawson says, 'It's been wonderful to witness her growth as an artist first hand.' Marquet's first play, Pale Blue Dot, also enjoyed its world premiere on the La Boite main stage four years ago.
The Dead Devils of Cockle Creek. Emily Weir, Image by Dylan Evans.