Bowsengabbie‘Death in Bowengabbie’ by Caleb Lewis
Downstairs at The Maj
Presented by: Shaman Productions & Critical Stages

This was my first visit to Downstairs at The Maj and its laid back vibe was the perfect venue for this return season of a great Australian work.There was certainly a buzz on opening night with not a spare seat in the house. Small round tables dotted the auditorium; patrons sipped wine and chatted while waiting for the show to begin. Certainly a very relaxing way to start the weekend.

The stage, bare apart from a few suitcases and a large open steamer trunk, was all that was needed to reveal we were going on a journey, a journey of soul searching and discovery. Anything more and it would take away from the delight that was about to unfold.

This play is good…..really, really good and playwright Caleb Lewis’ clever wit shines.

We meet Oscar, a young architect on the verge of marriage and international success as he begrudgingly returns to his hometown of Bowengabbie, a place he has not set foot in for many years. Attending the funeral of Aunt Jeannie we are introduced to his family and school friends who all reference his long absence from the town.

These are all wonderfully rich characters. Characters you could easily see in any Aussie country town. Their depth is a testament to just how good this writing is. The characters and scenes could have very easily fallen into a series of clichés, two-dimensional caricatures, but coupled with Matt Edgerton’s (AD of Barking Gecko Theatre Company) clever and thoughtful direction, and Bryce Youngman’s masterful performance, it doesn’t.

What we get is a beautiful look into a man’s journey to home, the people that once filled his life and the as yet unknown impact they still have on him.

Youngman is simply wonderful. He commands the space treating us to a master class of characterisation seamlessly transforming from one character to the next. From the theatrical Aunt with her Norma Desmond-esque, sometimes too friendly demeanour, to Oscar’s gratingly annoying high school pal who greets everyone with a swift belly punch and high pitched KAPOW! I wish I could mention them all but they are too numerous and all as equally good.

Yeoman’s physicality and comic timing are superb but he also beautifully brings out Oscar’s internal struggle, as the people who once filled his life drift back in (and out again) and make him re-evaluate his life decisions.

James Collins composition and sound design evokes a wonderful atmosphere as Oscar repeatedly returns to his home town for a series of flamboyant family funerals, but to divulge any more would give away the wonderful surprises in store.

I wish the Perth season had been longer than its two night run as it is a play that certainly deserves to be seen.

‘Death in Bowengabbie’ is a story about ‘how far would you go for love’ and a definite hit of the Perth theatre year!