A new theatre company enters the scene with Exit The King

Dionysus Theatre is a contemporary company, recently established on the Mornington Peninsula by Victorian Drama League award-winning director Emma Sproule.  and was an opportunity that came about simply because three friends wanted to work together. Sproule explains "I’d considered establishing my company for years (I was co-director of Shoestring Theatre Company several years and two lifetimes ago) but the timing was never right to step out solo until all of these amazing people suddenly fell into my lap and it was perfect. I couldn’t find a two-hander that I liked and then rediscovered Exit the King and knew in an instant I had people for the other four roles who all jumped at the chance to play them – it felt like fate."

Sproule's vision is to offer contemporary, accessible and engaging theatre for audiences and exciting opportunities for practitioners. She is looking at establishing programs, and classes, to allow younger people as well as aspiring directors, playwrights, technicians as well as performers to try new things and have their work and talents showcased.  Through her company's programmes she hopes  to develop and cast children’s productions in future.

Dionysus was, of course, the Ancient Greek god of wine, pleasure and fertility, and was also the patron of Drama.  This aspects are all appealing to sproule and contributed significantly to the name of this fledging group. "The week-long festivals held in Athens in his honour – in addition to involving much drinking, dancing and debauchery – were the home of the competitions between playwrights.," she say. "Given that Ancient Greece is the birth of western theatre and I’ve always been a bit of a sentimentalist, I loved the idea about naming my company after Dionysus, given all he represented. Plus, it gives us the opportunity to call our productions festivals and incorporate wine into the package (we may hold off on the debauchery until we’re better established though – watch this space…) Wine, always a crowd pleaser."

Dionysus Theatre’s inaugural production will be Eugene Ionesco’s comedy Exit the King, an absurdist piece of theatre that deals with some very familiar themes and utilises both physical comedy and sexual references to do so.  Ionesco wrote several plays with the central character of ‘Berenger’ who was his Everyman. Despite his extreme circumstances and strange surroundings, he reflects many of our own concerns.  Sproule's introduction to this piece and subsequent decision to direct it was not a lay down misere. "I had to read it for work a couple of years ago and while Theatre of the Absurd had always fascinated me as a subject of study and appreciation, I hadn't always enjoyed watching it on stage," she explains. "So I read it with apprehension, which made it all the more interesting when I loved it – I also couldn't put my finger on exactly why I loved it, it was just thoroughly alluring and intriguing to me. The concept of an all-powerful king, over 400 years old that while previously able to command all he saw, including the weather, was now about to die – just like everyone else – was presented so cleverly and creatively and yet as a concept to connect an audience with their own mortality, it seemed so simple and honest."

"Separate to the play itself, this is the very first production of a company I have established myself and is different to anything I have ever directed before – so it symbolises an ambitious new direction for me personally and professionally. The choice of this play and establishment of the company also came about through a desire to work again with particular people, all of whom I have been able to cast in this play so that’s really quite a treat.

It’s opening my eyes to direct absurdist theatre although Exit the King certainly allows me to ease into the style, having less of the absurdist conventions; for example it’s sequential as opposed to disjointed. Plus the subject matter itself, I feel, makes the experience for the audience far more real than realism – these might be hilarious caricatures but we will connect with their words and their plight readily. Plus, I’m coming up to 40 in a few years and that makes you reevaluate everything, doesn’t it?"

The version of the play the company is producing is a translation by Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush. "This has been a double-edged sword." states Sproule. "The reason I chose their version as opposed to the more common translation by Donald Watson is because both the humour and the characters are more accessible. The play is a comedy but it’s not like reading a farce where the humour is all but underlined in bold ink with a big arrow pointing to it – we’ve had to work to find the comedy in many places. Armfield and Rush have significantly reduced the searching. They haven’t simply amended the phrasing of some lines, they’ve actually inserted specific stage directions that support the visualisation of the physical comedy on which this script so heavily relies. That said, their work is exceptional and often times explicit and so it’s important that I respect that while simultaneously making my own mark. I don’t simply want to replicate what they did but I don’t want to change it for the sake of changing it either. It’s been quite the effort to resist watching YouTube clips of the Broadway version (2009, starring Susan Sarandon as well as Rush)"

Sproule has handpicked the cast as opposed to auditioning them and, as it happens, they are all very close friends of hers. "I didn’t do this lightly but given it was my maiden voyage into directing for my own company, I needed to be surrounded by a support network both in my friends and in a cast that I knew would deliver," she says. " While this has proven to be correct and the experience rewarding, rehearsals and productions are stressful and the best people find themselves conflicted; there has been a challenge in finding the balance between friend and director and knowing when to wear which hat."

The publicity blurb tells me that Berenger is a King. He’s the Commander-in-Chief, he stole fire from the gods, invented dynamite, the telephone and designed the Eiffel tower. He extinguished volcanoes, built Rome and New York, founded Paris, started revolutions and wrote the tragedies and comedies of Shakespeare. And he’s going to die. He’s pretty unhappy about this to be honest. Sproule does not wish for the audience to feel morbid or sad about Berenger’s inevitable demise but rather that the piece be a conduit that opens up a dialogue about what we do before we get there. "Great theatre should always engender discussion and I’d like to think this production will achieve that. I also hope they take away a newfound loyalty to Dionysus Theatre and all its future festivals."

WHERE: McClelland College Performing Art Centre, Karingal (Entry via Alexander Crescent)
Friday, October 5th –  Saturday, October 6th Friday, October 12th – Saturday, October 13th – 8pm – BOOKINGS:  http://www.trybooking.com/brib
For booking queries, please email [email protected]
Dionysus Theatre’s inaugural production will be performed by Matt Allen, Zoran Babic, Rebecca Benson, Amelia Hunter, Jesse  Thomas and Annabelle Tudor.
Tickets are cheaper if purchased online, using the address below, and group discounts are available.