April marks  the Melbourne premiere of a new Australian work, Death in Bowengabbie, by one of Australia's hottest writing talents, Caleb Lewis, and is directed by Matt Edgerton, one of Australia's premier directors.

This big, black, tender-hearted comedy has thus far  enjoyed rave reviews in other states and the vibe is already hotting up in expectation of it's Melbourne season.  Edgerton describes Caleb’s play as a big-hearted, generous piece of storytelling that never takes its audience for granted.

"Like all great stories, this play is about family. About our desire for escape but also the profound gravitational pull of the places and people of our childhood," he says. "The other great theme of the play is Love: big capital L Love. The play charts the oceanic passions that surge through even the most ordinary life. And it does all this while being very, very funny."

These are themes that  Edgerton not only knows well but also has a deep personal connection to. He tells me that both his parents grew up in farming families, on the fringes of country towns and each was the first in their household to go to university.

"In turn, my childhood was shaped by long visits to the country, watching my parents grapple with their relationship to places and people that both belonged to us and did not. I love what the play has to say about this experience of growth and dislocation – one that everyone shares in their own particular way. I also love the great challenges of staging this piece, particularly in creating a whole town full of larger-than-life characters with only one actor and a handful of props: a real test for a director’s craft. And I love working with Bryce and Caleb."

Edgerton, Lewis (Nailed; Dogfall; Crystal; The Sea Bride; Songs for the Deaf; Men, Love & the Monkeyboy;  Rust and Bone; Aleksander and the Robot Maid and Clinchfield) and actor Bryce Youngman have collaborated on two shows prior to this one.  They have developed a very healthy working relationship involving "blunt feedback and whisky" which, according to Edgerton, seems to be working well so far.

"Caleb and Bryce are of course very gifted artists but they also share a no-bullshit quality which is so refreshing in the theatre. You have to be sensitive in this work but you also have to realise that it’s not always about you. I think the ability to be honest and direct with your collaborators is crucial."

Edgerton trained at The Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in acting, graduating in 1999.  Since then he has directed ten shows for Bell Shakespeare Education, including adaptations of Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo And Juliet. Other Shakespearean plays include The Tempest and Othello directed for Sport For Jove, and it is the latter that Edgerton describes as his favorite directing job to date – apart from this one. He has also directed a number of scripted and devised performances for The Australian Theatre for Young People, NIDA Open Program and Shopfront Theatre; Words Of War, The Australians, The Paper Tiger, and The Citizenship Test for Poetry in Action.

Edgerton's approach is varied with film acting credits including: Natural Selection, Outside, The Junction Boys, and Enigma. TV credits: All Saints, Comedy Inc, Always Greener, Water Rats. For ABC radio he has voiced short stories, novels and radio plays. Edgerton is also a playwright with credits here including: Midsummer Madness for Bell Shakespeare, short plays for Stories from the 428 and the full length play Habibti which received second prize in ATYP’s National Young Playwright’s Competition. He  also wrote Wesley Mission’s Suicide Prevention DVD, now used in suicide-prevention training nationwide. Edgerton is currently working with the WAAPA second years on a production of Measure For Measure, then he will be heading back to Sydney to act in Richard III for Ensemble Theatre.

Death in Bowengabbie sounds completely intriguing and, in many ways, completely delightful.. "Sometimes theatre divides audiences and provokes strongly polarised reactions. This is not one of those shows," states Edgerton. "For whatever reason people just seem to really enjoy it. That starts with Caleb’s script. It’s a genuinely funny, genuinely surprising, delightful, crowd pleasing little gem of a story. Come and spend an hour watching Bryce Youngman pretending to be a whole town full of characters by himself and spinning a great story with consummate ease and charm."

A brave one man epic, it is the story of  Oscar who has made a great life in the city after escaping the burden of his small town family history. He seems to now have it all with a fiancé́, a new job on the horizon and his tragic past behind him. But a series of mysterious deaths in the family bring him back to his home town of Bowengabbie, time and again, for the understandably sad yet strangely festive funerals. Is it love or a tragic twist of fate that is bringing him back? Or is there something more sinister at play? My advice would be to go and find out for yourself!

April 3 – 13

Photo: Bryce Youngman in Death In Bowengabbie