Thursday, October 5, 2023



Rosieville by Mary Rachel Brown.  Canberra Youth Theatre at The Courtyard Studio, Canberra Theatre Centre, September 29 – October 8, 2023.  Published by Currency Press, including play text and program.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
October 4

Performed by

Imogen Bigsby-Chamberlin as Rose
Oscar Abraham as Xavier; Amy Crawford as Liz
Richard Manning as Alan; Disa Swifte as Anika
Callum Doherty as Ben
Clare Imlach as Pigeon / Cindy

Director – Luke Rogers
Set & Costume Designer – Aislinn King; Lighting Designer – Ethan Hamill
Sound Designer & Composer – Patrick Haesler
Assistant Director – Emily Austin; Stage Manager – Rhiley Winnett
Assistant Stage Manager – Hannah McGuinness

Youth Theatre Director, Luke Rogers, writes “I invited Mary to write a play for Canberra Youth Theatre that wrestled with the complexities of what young people were feeling amongst all of this chaos."

Watching the explosive exaggerated presentation style of this production of Rosieville was not an enjoyable experience.  For most of the 70 minutes I was struggling to understand what on earth was going on.  I obviously couldn’t take Pigeon to be real, especially since they (pronoun as in the script) told Rose at the very beginning “I’m your subconscious”.  

Then, when I read the script, I could see that my confusion about what was meant to seem real is what Mary Rachel Brown was writing about.  The characters of Rose (aged 11), and her brother Xavier (14) do not understand the confusion their mother Liz (37) is experiencing as her marriage is falling apart.  Will their father ever come back?  How come her hairdresser, Cindy (20), looks like Pigeon, who I thought existed only in Rose’s imagination?  Is the whole play what she imagines?

And that’s only the Livingston family in Button Place.  Next door Alan Sayed (64) seems to be dying with some level of dementia, leaving his daughter Anika (18) – her mother is never mentioned, I think – to maybe form a relationship with her next-door neighbour Ben Spiteri (17), whose family otherwise doesn’t appear.

And the whole mash-up of relationships is dominated by Alan’s obsessive fixation on his homing pigeons, trusting that his favourite will find her way home (because they always do however lost they may be on the way). Is she Alan’s and Anika’s missing wife and mother? And then there’s Alan’s other insistence on getting Xavier to succeed in flying more than 50 metres in a revival of the 1980’s Birdman Rally – in a kind of replacement for Xavier’s losing his father.

At the end Rosie announces that Alan died four days ago.  But Alan is there, raises his wings, and says “Welcome to the jungle.”

No wonder I’m confused while watching the play.  But by reading the script I can see that what Brown intended was for the audience to experience what it is like for people when life’s exigencies just happen, with no apparent rhyme or reason.  But at least Rose has come to love her Pigeon and can speak rationally:

Sunset and sunrise just keep turning up.  It just keeps happening, day upon day, and night upon night, constantly turning over and making this heartbreaking, strange, wonderful, terrible, boring, surprising, scary, horrendous, disappointing, joyous, amazing thing called your one and only life.

This, I guess, is Mary Rachel Brown’s message for the youth of today – writing in her Playwright’s Note “I grew up in the birthplace of this play and went to Canberra Youth Theatre; in so many respects, this work feels like a homecoming.  I wish I could have told my sixteen-year-old self this would happen.”

I think now that I would have directed the play more ‘softly’, less explosively, because I would want the audience to feel more empathy with Rose.  The characters of Pigeon / Cindy (specified by Brown to be played by the same actor) were too exaggerated (sometimes just laughable) from the beginning to make the ending of Rosieville work better emotionally.