Don’t Miss Spencer

Catch 'Spencer' at the Townsville Civic Theatre on 19 August 2019. PHOTO: Pier Carthew

There’s something especially endearing about seeing quintessential Aussie families on film and stage. If the Kerrigan’s make you swell with pride, the Day-Knights hit close to home and Bronson Twist is basically your little brother, then you’ll want to catch “future Australian classic”, Spencer, when it is performed in Townsville.

The brand new comedy-drama follows a dysfunctional, though tightly-knit family as they prepare to welcome the young son that golden-child Scott never knew he had. Along the way, the audience is given pause to think about how our families define us and whether we ever truly grow up.

Cast member and Producer Lyall Brooks said Spencer’s authenticity is one of the its greatest qualities.

“One of my favourite parts of every performance of Spencer is noticing the elbow jabs in the audience and hearing the whispered ‘See? That’s what YOU do!’ or ‘That is SO my mum.’ or ‘Oh my god I say that’,” said Lyall. “The characters and the family and their situation – even though it’s all slightly heightened, because it’s theatre after all! – are so recognisable. It hits a nerve, or a funny bone – often both at the same time. I’m basically playing my brother but hopefully he doesn’t read this!”

Spencer premiered in 2017 and has collected string of accolades in its short time including two Green Room Award Nominations for Best Writing and Best Performance, being shortlisted for the 2015 Playwrighting Australia New Play Development Program and being named a Finalist for the 2014 Max Afford Playwright’s Award.

The current tour is a remount that sees all five original cast members return to reprise their roles. Lyall, who plays outspoken and obnoxious Ben, said that while the play itself hadn’t changed at all, the actors had taken the opportunity to dig deeper into their characters.

“The deeper themes of the work of family, forgiveness, depression – covered as they are with all the laughs – aren’t going anywhere,” said Lyall.

“As actors, though, we’ve had the chance to delve back into the world of the Prior family and flesh out our characters and relationships and moments all over again – and even deeper this time. The whole cast has returned, and we came back after two years with this play still quite present in our bodies, so we could spend that rehearsal time picking up where we left off and evolving the performance.”

Delivering uniquely Australian stories told in uniquely Australian ways – as is the case with Spencer – is something Lyall supports fiercely.

“There’s still a bit of an insidious cultural cringe in Australia when it comes to local plays on local stages. Many theatre luvvies may strongly disagree, but I will happily argue this over a house pinot grigio in a foyer of their choice!” he said.

“There’s a certain dishonesty in presenting hot new or “classic” overseas works with a token message of “this speaks to us too!” because we as an audience tend (or can choose) to sit in smug safety in front of the funny accents or strange settings or billowy pantaloons and not be completely connected.

“If you want to attract, provoke and engage contemporary Australians, let them see themselves on stage, exploring and owning all the big issues we currently think only the domain of overseas or old playwrights.” 

The underlying message? Get along to support Australian theatre.

“Whether it’s with your family, date night, girls’ night out, footy team outing or just by yourself – get to the theatre,” Lyall said. “And if Spencer is the next theatre you decide to see, even better! Hang around afterwards, have a drink, buy a script… and tell us what you thought!”

Catch Spencer at the Townsville Civic Theatre on 19 August 2019. For more information and tickets, click here.

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