“A bit of magic” and “full of energy” are the words cast and creatives are using to describe Queensland Theatre’s ‘Mouthpiece’ – qualities that can also be applied to emerging actor Jayden Popik, who stars as Declan in the play.
Popik, originally from Queensland, was living in Melbourne pre-coronavirus, but returned to the Sunshine Coast to be with family – and avoid lockdown – at the start of July. The young actor answered an open call for a Queensland Theatre show slated for 2021; he was called in to perform a monologue as part of a general audition, then selected by Mouthpiece director Lee Lewis.
“Lee said, ‘would you be able to come back in next week if I sent a play to you and do a scene?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’” Popik remembers, adding he was pleasantly surprised to learn the show was being considered for an end of 2020 run, given the COVID-19 restrictions.
“This is by far the biggest gig I’ve had,” he said. “It’s one of best plays I’ve ever read and personally been sucked into and excited by….It’s a story for this time; there’s a lot that audiences are going to relate to.”
Billed by QPAC as “the perfect piece with which Queensland Theatre can reconnect with its audiences after six months of silence on our stages,” the show runs from 31 October to November 14 at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC).
Written by Kieran Hurley for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, ‘Mouthpiece’ took home the 2019 Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award, an honour that aims to recognise the best new play at the festival. While QPAC has adapted the show for an Australian audience, Popik credits Hurley’s writing in carrying him along for the ride.
“I would describe it as a rollercoaster…a very fun rollercoaster,” he clarified. “It’s got a bit of everything – corkscrews and the loop-de-loops, the gradual rising up and the quick fall; it’s got it all.
“There is a lot of humour…but it’s got its heady moments, as well. It packs a huge punch; It’s just a brilliant play.”
The play is a two-hander, co-starring Australian stage favourite Christen O’Leary, who says she’s never read “a ripper ending like I’ve read in this play.”
Despite the fact he’s never done a two-hander before, Popik said he was in good hands with O’Leary (and Lewis) and was able to find his character’s voice early in the process.
“When I first read the script, I was up late. I had this energy surging through me and was just very excited by Declan,” Popik remembers. “As with most characters, you try to find parts of yourself that you can compare with the character and dive into those bits and amplify those aspects of yourself and mould it… But I have lots to learn from him, as well; the way that he tackles life.”
The play delves into class differences as shown in the contrast between middle-aged Libby (O’Leary), described as “a woman who has wasted her opportunities” and Declan, “a young man who will never be offered any.”
Popik said he was struck with his character’s resilience.
“He refuses to be a victim and to buy into the drama of his life,” he said. “A lot of things don’t knock him down but when he does get knocked down, he won’t stay down; he won’t accept that. He’s back up again and won’t allow himself to be defeated…He won’t wallow in it; won’t let himself believe he has this story of hardship; it’s just what he knows. It’s just his life.
“It’s not often you get to see plays like this and stories and voices like this on stage, particularly Declan’s voice.”
Popik believes the key question revolves around who has the right to tell someone else’s story.
“Is having the intention of being a voice for the voiceless actually successful?… Is putting someone’s life on stage really worth it?”
The team behind ‘Mouthpiece’ – along with Brisbane performing arts fans eager to return to the theatre- undoubtedly believe the answer is yes.
‘Mouthpiece’ runs from 31 October to 14 November at the QPAC Playhouse. Tickets are $55-$75 (plus transaction fee) and can be purchased on the QPAC website here. For more information on Jayden Popik, visit his Instagram page here.