THEATRE BY FRANK McKONE
Lloyd Beckmann, Beekeeper by Tim Stitz and Kelly Somes. Directed by Kelly Somes. Two Blue Cherries & Soulart Productions in association with Free-Rain Theatre Company at The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, February 18-21, 2010, 7.30pm.
I can only hope that my grandson, who will be 25 when I am ninety, will present as warm, delightful and down-to-earth a homage for me as Tim Stitz has done for his grandfather, Lloyd Beckmann. Beekeeper could easily have been a merely personal, sentimental memoir of the hard life of an Aussie battler. But Somes’ direction with lighting by Bronwyn Pringle and sound by Liz Stringer and Neddwellyn Jones keeps the sentiment inside a clear boundary of reality.
The result is a 70 minute performance by Stitz which has more significance than the merely personal.
At first the character of Lloyd Beckmann could have easily seem to have been lifted out of a Steele Rudd Dad and Dave sequence, as he told us of the hilarious details of the sex-life of a queen bee. It was Beckmann’s old-fashioned Australian accent that centred our focus on the character, and made me think of On Our Selection. Arthur Hoey Davis, the real “Steele Rudd”, interestingly enough, based his stories on his father’s bush farming experience at Emu Creek, Queensland, not too far from where Beckmann lived most of his life. Davis’s publications made humorous bush characters highly popular from their beginning in The Bulletin in 1895 through to the 1940s, especially through the 1920s and 30s as Beckmann was growing up.
But once we moved indoors, into Beckmann’s granny flat, filled with family photos, furniture collected over the years, but missing his wife, now “up the hill”, we gradually came to understand that the humour of Beckmann’s character as he genuinely wanted to entertain us, his guests, was covering up the many disappointments in his life. At fleeting moments, his grandson Tim, would appear in a change of accent to modern Melbourne, and we then also began to understand that this show is a brave act on the part of Tim Stitz.
At the end, as Beckmann lays out the implements, boots and white overalls of the beekeeper on the floor between us in the intimate setting of the granny flat, and places the broad-brimmed bush hat with its surrounding veil at its head, suddenly all the totemic images of old Australia, the workers in the bush, immigrants, farmers, miners and soldiers, are blended into a feeling that with Lloyd Beckmann’s passing that Australia will be no more than a memory.
Tim Stitz allows us into his memorial for the past in a quite remarkable way, and leaves us to wonder what we are gaining or losing as we move on into the new world order of the 21st Century.
Lloyd Beckmann, Beekeeper is planned to go on tour through regional centres as well as major cities. I wish the company well in this venture, which is in itself part of a long tradition of travelling showmen who have maintained the links across this wide brown land. In this way the grandson pays homage to the grandfather, the present recognises its roots in the past.