Strathmore Theatrical Arts Group (STAG) open their 2016 season with Bridgette Burton’s highly acclaimed play, Killing Jeremy.
Killing Jeremy is a fascinating study of the mind as well as a successful discourse about guilt, loss and forgiveness. By Melbourne writer, actor, director and co-founder of Baggage Productions, Bridgette Burton, the play focuses on Jeremy, who is in a coma, and his girlfriend, Madeleine, who is waiting for him to wake up.
Burton started Killing Jeremy at the beginning of 2004. Still primarily an actor, she was mainly driven by wanting to create an interesting role for a woman – one in which she could play multiple characters and explore some more meaty performance material.
“I think that the idea of waiting by someone’s sick bed was the inspiration – serious illness and death create a kind of tension simply by their premise and so I began with that idea and moved from there,” Burton explains. “I finished the play in 2006 with the help of the RE Ross Trust Playwrights Script Development Award. I was thrilled to receive it, and it allowed me to enter into a series of workshops that rounded and polished the piece.”
Burton acknowledges the irony in writing the piece initially for herself as she became very ill in 2004 and had to almost completely stop performing on stage for about 18 months. “During that time I found that I really loved to write and that it wasn’t just a means to an ends for myself as a performer but rather a creative freedom and thrill in its own right,” she says crediting the illness for turning her into a playwright. “I did eventually perform the piece but it was a watershed for me nonetheless.”
Hoy Polloy staged the production in 2006 with Burton and husband Fabian Kahwati in the roles of Jeremy and Madeleine. For Burton, some challenges were imposed when she became the actor in her own piece of writing. A clash between the actor and her playwright self, a particular challenge.
“This is probably the reason why I am predominately a playwright now and also prefer not to perform my own work anymore,” she states. “I really enjoyed playing Madeleine, and I felt that I acquitted the piece well, but I feel that other performers are probably more free with my work. So much of the play was solid and immoveable in my head – luckily I had a terrific director in Wayne Pearn (Artistic Director and founder of Hoy Polloy Theatre Company), who always pushed and encouraged me to reach further and take more risks. The truth is that I definitely felt a clash, and also the overriding feeling that I was a playwright and not an actor – a sensation I hadn’t experienced before. I also realized that the piece is really challenging and frankly I’d rather make other people squirm performing my work, not me.”
The play is, in turns, conversations, dreams, and practicalities, as it stirs and sifts through the past to eventually reveal the truth behind the accident that has left Jeremy on life support. It is a story of guilt; of loss and love; of humour and warmth, as Madeleine fights to hold on to what matters most.
Cathartic, perhaps, for Burton as she acknowledges that her own experience in relationships, and with love, were definitely fertile ground for her to think about the nature of love, dedication and loyalty.
Burton explores some pretty horrific ideas with humour, honesty and an Australian sensibility which, at times, can be laconic. However, and aptly, the play is a rollercoaster ride of emotion, finding a wonderful balance between the sensitive and the sentimental thus making the play accessible and relatable and cogent over self indulgent and pithy.
As a playwright, these are themes that Burton pokes and prods time and again. In the case of Killing Jeremy, it is the notion of guilt disguised as love and honor that drives Madeleine – and that this guilt doesn’t preclude actual love. There is also the tricky nature of memory, and the way that we edit and refine our past to make it bearable.
The play is also embroidered with an eclectic mix of music. Jeremy, a heavy metal fan, brings us up and close and personal with bands like Andromeda while Madeleine is intent on ‘singing’ John Denver at every opportunity. There is also a soupcon of R&B/Jazz.
Explains Burton: ” The heavy metal was chosen by my husband, who loves that genre and knew the kind of thing that I was looking for “something that my parents generation would hate”. The Denver song was chosen because its a catchy tune, one that can have many substations, but is also lovely in its own right – touching and gentle. And all about love. And Nina Simone is just Nina Simone, no one beats Nina.”
Killing Jeremy shows us the strength of Burton’s writing as Madeleine’s plight and Jeremy’s medical condition are scrutinized with the deft hand of a surgeon, and it is this idea of being able to compress so many brilliant thoughts and images into a neat 44 pages, that impresses.
Killing Jeremy reminds us that all relationships are flawed. Love is not always equal, memories can torment us and sometimes you hurt the one you love.
Killing Jeremy stars Melanie Rowe and Xavier Ryan (both pictured) and runs March 3 – 13
This is also STAG’s 2016 VDL entry play