Wednesday, October 4, 2023

ROSIEVILLE - Canberra Youth Theatre


Imogen Bigsby-Chamberlin (Rosie) - Claire Imlach (Pigeon) in "Rosieville"

Written by Mary Rachel Brown - Directed by Luke Rogers

Set and Costume Design by Aislinn King – Lighting Design by Ethan Hamill

Sound Designer and composer: Patrick Haesler – Stage Manager: Rhiley Winnett

Canberra Theatre Centre Courtyard Studio 30th September – 8th October 2023.

Performance on 30th September reviewed by BILL STEPHENS.

Oscar Abraham (Xavier) - Callum Doherty (Ben) - Disa Swifte (Anika) - Richard Manning (Alan)
Imogen Bigsby-Chamberlin (Rose) in "Rosieville"

In responding to her commission by the Canberra Youth Theatre for a new play, Mary Rachel Brown has conceived a delightful modern day parable which has received a charming premiere production by CYT under the direction of Artistic Director, Luke Rogers.

Brown cut her theatrical teeth as a member of Canberra Youth Theatre. She has set “Rosieville” in Canberra with a mouthy homing pigeon as a metaphor for perseverance, loyalty and stamina, offering cheeky comments rather than solutions.  

The play revolves around the Livingstone family. Liz Livingstone (Amy Crawford) is battling to cope with the breakdown of her marriage, as well as the fear of losing contact with her two children; 11 year-old Rose (Imogen Bigsby-Chamberlin) and 14 year-old Xavier (Oscar Abraham), both of whom are also struggling with the situation.  

Amy Crawford (Liz) -Imogen Bigsby - Chamberlin (Rose)
in "Rosieville"

Rose has retreated into an imaginary friendship with a pigeon (Claire Imlach), while Xavier steadfastly resists efforts by next-door neighbour Alan, (Richard Manning) to distract him away from his obsession with his cell-phone by building an entry for the forthcoming annual Birdman Rally.

Alan has an illness, and is being cared for by his 18 year-old daughter, Anika (Disa Swifte). Unbeknownst to Rose, Xavier or Anika, Alan is suffering from a terminal illness.  Anika shares her father’s hobby of breeding homing pigeons, each of which she has named after a famous female activist, excepting one, which she named after her friend Rose. Anika also has a younger boyfriend, Ben (Callum Doherty,) who lives in the same street as both families.

Disa Swifte (Anika) - Callum Doherty (Ben) in "Rosieville".

The interaction between these characters makes captivating theatre, particularly as Brown has provided them with elegant, thought-provoking dialogue such as 11 year-old Rose’s response to her older friend’s invitation to confide in her, “You’ll have to wait..I haven’t got the words yet”. Brown also has a keen ear for capturing teenage vernacular without the need to lapse into coarseness.

Each of her characters has been beguilingly realised by the well-chosen cast, with Claire Imlach’s comic performance as Rose’s imaginary pigeon-friend being a stand-out. Aislinn King’s sophisticated setting, with its pigeon cages scattered around, together with Patrick Haesler’s moody soundscape which incorporates the cooing of pigeons, provided an appropriate environment for the action, especially for the scenes in which the characters wait patiently for the pigeons to return.

Perhaps more imaginative lighting and directorial solutions to the challenges of frequent changes in time and locale might have helped clarify those character relationships not immediately obvious from the spoken dialogue.  Simply having the actors exit the stage at the end of scenes once they had delivered their lines did nothing to achieve this.

This quibble apart, “Rosieville” is a delightful, life-affirming play offering endless interpretive possibilities for youth theatre companies and others seeking creative challenges with which to delight audiences. This production by Canberra Youth Theatre does it proud, and caps off a year notable for the number of new plays successfully premiered by the company.   

                                Images by Andrew Sikorski - Atelier Photography

     This review also published in AUSTRALIAN ARTS REVIEW.