New kid on the Indie block, FizzWack Theatre, is launching next month with Ruben Guthrie – Brendan Cowell’s warts and all commentary on the Australian drinking culture.
The appeal that Ruben Guthrie has for us as Australians can be described as visceral – it reflects recognizable characters in a familiar culture, speaking in a language we know and understand. For co-founder of FizzWack Theatre, Travis Handcock, it was the writing that immediately jumped out at him.
“The show opens with Ruben sitting in an AA meeting that his mother and fiancé has dragged him to and as I read it, seven years ago, the words just sprung off the page,” says Handcock. “I started reading it aloud because the rhythm was so strong, reading it in my head wasn’t enough. Brendan Cowell writes for the artist, his writing would drive English professors crazy especially with his punctuation. There are some slabs of text that have no punctuation and some where there is punctuation every second word and what that does for the artist is gives us a rhythm to the scene before we delve into the subtext. He rarely uses italicised stage directions, his writing is so strong that it doesn’t need them. Personally, I hate scripts with a ton of stage directions and I believe that less stage directions is the sign of a good writer as the character dialogue has to be strong so the actors and director can still understand what the scene is trying to say. Also with few stage directions, it gives you the ability to do almost anything you like with the staging of the production. Yes, you can stage anything anyway you like, but with the lack of these things, it forces you to decide how you are going to stage the show and allows you to be completely creative, which I love.”
Cowell uses his character, Guthrie, as a no holds barred representation of what it means to fall into a deep, black hole without a safety net. Ruben Guthrie is not a very nice human being and redemption only works when based on a solid foundation. To his credit, Cowell does not attempt sentimentality (even in Guthrie’s humbler moments) and the play is a lot more than surface schmaltz says Handcock:
“On the surface this is a show about one man battling with addiction after one night gets out of hand and he jumps off a hotel roof into a swimming pool but it delves so much deeper than that. Ruben Guthrie is a semi-autobiographical account of Cowell’s battle with the bottle and his decision to give it up. The beauty with Ruben Guthrie is the show starts with him giving up and follows his journey of sobriety and so, it isn’t just about addiction but about the relationships he has with the people surrounding him. Ruben is on his mission to stay sober because he is actually starting to like himself and is really happy within himself, however the people around him struggle with his new found self. There is his Dad who is an alcoholic himself and completely in denial about it, his best friend who only knows a good night that involves being smashed, the AA sponsor trying to keep him on the straight and narrow but dealing with her own issues, the mother who dragged him to AA but doesn’t like who he becomes, the boss who believes Ruben does his best work drunk and the fiancé who leaves after Ruben humiliates her at the first meeting. These people continue to provide Ruben with excuses on why he could turn back to the bottle, it gives him the opportunity to deal out blame if he slips, but he soon realises that it is all on him. The fight is him and the bottle and it is always going to be there.”
Handcock is a Victorian Drama League Award winning director and VDL nominated actor. He is also relishing playing the lead role of Ruben Guthrie with Handcock enjoying the roller coaster of emotions Ruben travels on but also the path he takes the audience on.
“At the very start of the show he is a arrogant, pompous, smart alec that most audiences will not particularly like, however when he kicks the drink and starts to fight he turns in to the guy that everyone starts barracking for,” explains Handcock. “We want Ruben to succeed in his quest to stay sober and with every curve ball he dodges the audience quietly cheer that he is getting stronger and stronger. The challenge with that for myself is trying to win the audience back after being (possibly) alienating at the start of the show, but it’s also the most exciting thing to do. Ruben is larger than life and the loss of alcohol is a huge hit to his confidence but the struggle and fight is the most fun to play. After personally battling a gambling addiction it is exciting to play an addict in a play that dares to ask an audience whether you are on his side or not but then also questions their decision.”
As a creative, Handcock has established himself as a proponent of contemporary, edgy and moving plays. “I get around to a lot of theatre, averaging around two shows a week, and the thing I get most frustrated with is the constant repeating of plays, which is why I love reading fresh new scripts and part of the reason Stephanie King and myself have started up FizzWack Theatre Company, because it allows us to find these fresh and exciting plays and put them on for an audience that we both believe are out there,” he says. “I love plays that leave you so much to work with as I mentioned with Cowell’s work, plays that give very little in stage directions but a wealth of knowledge through the dialogue, plays that aren’t afraid to tackle big issues and plays that allow us to create.”
Ruben Guthrie does reflect the Australian drinking culture but goes beyond its condemnation and talks in terms of rehabilitation and assistance. Cowell has created seven characters that we can all identify with, making for confronting theatre as we are forced to reflect on ourselves and our relationships.
“There are so many reasons why audiences should come to the show,” says Handcock. “Firstly, it is a ripper show that I am incredibly proud of, we have a dedicated cast and crew that are determined to make this show the best it can possibly be. The show will take you on a roller coaster as we hurtle to its stunning and perhaps unpredictable end at a break neck speed and the sounds cape, lighting and staging helps tell the story in all its both beautiful and horrible truths. This production has been re-vamped and re-energised from a production that won the Best Drama Production for 2015 at the Victorian Drama League Awards, it features almost the same cast but there is enough that is different to make it exciting for audiences that saw the previous production and exciting for new audiences. Finally, people should come and see the show because it is the inaugural production of FizzWack Theatre and everyone who buys a ticket will be supporting a brand new independent Melbourne theatre company. It gives people the chance to say that they were a part of helping FizzWack Theatre Company get off the ground.”
September 7 – 10