Brisbane Arts Theatre: 1000 Not Out

brisbane arts theatre

BRISBANE Arts Theatre has been the home of many a cultural milestone in the River City’s history, but July brings a landmark more prominent than most: the company’s 1000th production.

British bedroom farce Noises Off fills the momentous slot on the theatre’s calendar, with a tale involving – somewhat fittingly – a touring theatre company’s efforts to bring a show to the stage.

Reaching 1000 productions gives staff and fans of the much-loved Petrie Terrace theatre a chance to reflect on its history, recognise its prominent place in Brisbane’s arts scene, and recall some of the famous thespians who have passed through the ranks.

After being founded in 1936 as Brisbane Amateur Theatres by Jean Trundle and Vic Hardgraves, the burgeoning company staged its first production, Tell Me the Truth. Plays were staged at Brisbane’s Albert Hall, a 600-capacity auditorium which was soon demolished to make way for what is now the Suncorp building. In 1951, the company changed its name to Brisbane Arts Theatre, and at the end of the decade the board of directors made an offer of £6,000 to purchase a second-hand junk shop on Petrie Terrace, converting it into a small theatre. With the help of £3,000 worth of renovations, the 144-seat auditorium opened on September 1st, 1961. The theatre company became the first in Brisbane to operate its own venue; one of many key firsts in Brisbane’s cultural heritage.

The theatre thrived until a fire gutted the building in 1964, but the hard work and dedication of volunteers and design skills of architect John Dalton combined to put it back together. When the theatre’s 50th anniversary was celebrated in 1986, artist Kevin Grealy was commissioned to create ceramic masks for a new facade concept; these remain a prominent feature of the theatre’s exterior today.

While thousands of actors of all ages and backgrounds have graced the Brisbane stage, it is testament to the company’s consistent eye for talent that so many thespians who have gone on to have professional careers have passed through its doors. Where to start with the list of well-known alumni?

An early visitor to the theatre was actor and celebrity chef Bernard King, who appeared in many productions before going on to host a cooking segment on Good Morning Australia and have his own programme, King’s Kitchen. Brisbane’s Carol Burns’ early appearances at the theatre gave her experience to use in tackling her role in Prisoner, for which she won a Logie. In a serendipitous move, Burns returned to the theatre in 2013 to direct Picnic at Hanging Rock. Steven Rooke is perhaps best known for his role as Terry in the 2006 film Footy Legends, while his television credits include All Saints, Home and Away, and Always Greener. Michael Caton, Judith McGrath and former premier of Queensland Wayne Goss have also made notable appearances.

The most well-known of the theatre’s former actors is of course Barry Otto; the Strictly Ballroom and Australia star began his performance career treading the Petrie Terrace boards before going on to do big things in film. He picked up an AFI Award for Best Supporting Actor in Strictly Ballroom and has recently worked with Baz Luhrmann for the third time on The Great Gatsby.

As an amateur and self-funded arts company, Brisbane Arts Theatre is – and always has been – a place to see the best of the up-and-coming talent Brisbane and South-East Queensland has to offer. The 1000th production, Noises Off, will be no different. A classic tale of love triangles, overindulgence and belly laughs, it is set to mark the occasion in grand style.

As Brisbane Arts Theatre powers forward in the 21st century as an iconic, thriving performing arts community, it still holds just as much of an essential place in the cultural fabric of Brisbane as it did when it opened in 1936. If you haven’t paid a visit in a while, maybe now is a good time to get reacquainted and join in the celebrations.

Noises Off runs from July 4 to August 15. Tickets from

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Andrew Lowe of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest: “The mental illness side still applies today”

one flew over

LEGENDARY author Ken Kesey wrote the novel in 1962, and the 1975 film went on to win Oscars for best lead actor (Jack Nicholson in a career-defining role as protagonist Randle P. McMurphy), lead actress, picture, director and screenplay.

It therefore takes a brave bunch to take such illustrious material to the stage, and it’s New Zealand actor Andrew Lowe’s task to make the risk-taking, anti-authoritarian McMurphy come alive in Brisbane Arts Theatre’s latest production.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest was just too irresistible for me to pass up,” Lowe says. “The hard part is trying to get away from the film and putting your own ideas in. People have their own perception of how they think it will be played. I feel [the play] is very different to the film, but then the film was very different to the novel. In the novel, they’re very much normal people that have been deemed mentally unfit for society, whereas in the film I feel they really played up the mental illness part more; not caricatures, but getting into comedy. Ours is still in development, and we’re going down the entertainment route as well, but I think it’s got to be that way for an audience to be engaged by it.”

The story follows McMurphy as he is sent to a mental institution to await sentencing by a criminal court. At first he sees his new surroundings as a place in which to escape doing jail time, although he soon begins to revolt and rally his fellow patients against the overbearing and subtly cruel Nurse Ratched, and the two become locked in a battle of wills that only one can survive.

“I think the play has some great points in it,” Lowe says. “The mental illness side still applies today; the way we treat mental illness. In the film it’s about McMurphy rising up against Nurse Ratched and promoting individualism and each person’s own traits as unique and part of human nature, whereas Nurse Ratched tries to make them conform. It’s a powerful piece because we need to embrace people’s individual traits in society and understand who they are and to let them be who they want to be. I think these days we have pills for everything that are supposed to tackle and solve everything, and this play shows that that’s not the way to do things necessarily – McMurphy is a great advocate of that.”

Lowe, who got into acting in Australia after studying law and accounting for five years in his native New Zealand, has diverse industry experience and sees Brisbane Arts Theatre as a vital part of the theatre and arts scene in Brisbane.

“I’ve done about 20 short films and I was behind the scenes on Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken,” he says. “I was the lead actor’s stand-in. I spent four months working with [Jolie], and it was fantastic to see how it all comes together and what it takes. It was a great experience; I just want a part of it now [laughs]. I’ve just shot a Tropfest film too; it ends up as a tragedy and I decided to break the fourth wall a lot on that as well – that Malcolm In The Middle sort of thing. This is my fourth show at Brisbane Arts Theatre. I’ve done Picnic at Hanging Rock, Frankenstein and A New Way To Pay Old Debts. Someone told me it was the oldest theatre in Brisbane, and that just speaks for itself if you ask me. There’s obviously a lot of history there and a lot of the origins of theatre in Brisbane. Of course, it’s a community-based theatre, so it’s great as an outlet for people who just want to get up there and do it, have a go and have some fun.”


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