The Curators - Vincent River

Actress Amanda McErlean on Vincent River’s turbulent ride: ‘We never held a script’

If you’re looking for an opportunity to get out and enjoy some live theatre in a new Brisbane venue, The Curators are back on stage with ‘Vincent River’, performing from 13-31 October at Christ Church in Milton.

But, lead actress, Amanda McErlean, says ‘Vincent River’ is likely to be a polarising experience.

“The Curators have worked very hard to bring ‘Vincent River’ to fruition as soon as we could after the COVID-19 lockdown, knowing that despite the plethora of online performances available, there is nothing like a live one experienced at close quarters,” McErlean told Theatre Haus exclusively.

Written 20 years ago by Philip Ridley, the play is a two-hander, meaning there are only two actors in the show. It’s what attracted McErlean to the role.

“I was looking for the opportunity to work closely with another actor and for much of the development of the piece coming out of the effect we had on each other,” she said.

Having previously featured in ‘The Quighting Time’ and ‘Uncle Vanja’ with The Curators, McErlean now stars as Anita, the grieving mother of young Vincent River, who is dead before the play begins.

“Anita is a very strong character holding on by a thread to the memory of her son,” McErlean said. “She runs the full gamut of emotions during the play, which is a wonderful experience for an actor.”

Patrick Shearer plays 17-year-old Davey, who has been following Anita, ‘hungry for the details of Vincent’s life.’

“It can be exhausting – Anita starts the play and is on stage until the very end; Davey runs a very close second for stage time. This means there is no place to hide and everything depends on us – no pressure!”

The Curators - Vincent River
Patrick Shearer and Amanda McErlean star in The Curators premiere of ‘Vincent River’.

While the performances may be draining, McErlean said the rehearsal process was ‘liberating.’

“By going through a process of having our lines quietly ‘fed’ to us by someone else, Patrick and I were able to develop a very strong connection early in rehearsals,” she explained. “Despite there being 70 pages of dialogue shared between us, we never held a script during rehearsals. It was a very liberating experience.”

McErlean describes Ridley’s writing style as cutting to the heart of things; the perfect combination of words, whether they skewer or caress. But she said the most challenging moments to perform are those of silence.

“Anita drives the action of the play initially which can be draining, but actually the more challenging portion for me is towards the end when Anita is reacting to Davey’s story without saying anything.”

Co-founded by Michael Beh and Peter Crees in 2017, The Curators Theatre says it strives to put on shows that are ‘politically, artistically charged responses to the pressing themes underpinning our lives’ and prefers recreating works that ‘address issues of marginalisation and under-representation in society.’

Originally set and performed in the UK in 2000, ‘Vincent River’ addresses homophobic-based violence.

McErlean said this can be extended to include violence against any form of difference; “race, gender, sexual orientation, ability…which sadly seems to be on the increase in recent years.”

However, she suggests the main theme of the play is love.

“How it can sustain us through many of life’s great trials but also the devastation that occurs when it is lost, especially in a sudden and violent fashion. The heartbreak when the loss is so soon after the discovery of that love, and the affinity felt by those united in that loss, is a universal experience relevant anywhere in the world.”

Noting every audience member will respond differently according to their own life experiences, McErlean hopes people will walk out of the theatre with a strong emotional reaction.

“This play is a turbulent ride and I would be very surprised if it didn’t polarise people.”

Vincent River’ runs from Tuesday, 13 October to Saturday, 31 October 2020 with shows starting at 7:30 PM at Christ Church, Milton (parking available). For more information, visit The Curator’s website.

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