By Joel Bray (Creator/Performer) and Kate Carr (Composer). Brisbane Festival – The Johnson Hotel – 12-15 September, 2018

“Thanks for coming along and having a yarn,” says Joel Bray to his small, but capacity audience of around 20 people as they leave his ‘hotel room’ at The Johnson Hotel in Spring Hill. Audience members respond like new-found friends and privileged party crashers: “Thanks for the champagne!” – some even hug the performer: “Thanks for sharing your story” – not the usual way you exit a theatre performance. 

Joel Bray has been performing Biladurang for almost a year – and yet this unique performance is guaranteed fresh each time. Like the platypus that gives the piece its name, this show is a misfit mix – a hybrid of dance, multimedia, storytelling, family history, improvisation, comedy, flesh – and soapsuds! Bray uses the intimate space of the hotel room to create his own confessional, letting us in on his deepest reflections about his relationships, sexuality, and aboriginality. He creates a mosaic of memories, thoughts and movement. It’s a lot to pack in, and sounds intense, but Bray is playful and funny.

The stage is the bedroom. The props are the TV, the furniture and the audience – an essential part of the script, cast and crew, encouraged to switch lights on, pop the champagne and contribute conversations. Using funny flashbacks – gay porn magazines, Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball, Latino lovers, clubbing – Bray recounts his coming of age in rural Orange. It leads to a ‘lost weekend’ of anonymous sex as he finds himself suddenly single and at a career crossroads. Like the tale of the platypus that has strayed too far from its homeland, Bray has taken himself to the edge of experience to feel alive and find his identity. But the struggle is imparted with humour – “Did you know that the biggest crop grown in Orange was actually the apple?”

Kate Carr’s music holds us in a theatrical space – not as a background playlist, more a haunted feeling, complementing the hotel room’s echoes and creaks. Yes, this is immersive theatre, so expect the unexpected. The hour-long performance veers from the laugh-out-loud to the deeply moving – Bray describes the exhaustion of taking on the muscle memories of other people’s shows when what he really longs for is to have the dance steps of his ancestor’s etched into his bones.

Biladurang feels like Bray claiming his ground – peeling off his former skin. When he insists on taking a shower – in a cleverly staged CCTV piece – he emerges washed clean – a fresh self and a fresh start. It was intriguing to be a part of this theatre piece – but I think it will be even more exciting to see where Joel Bray appears next.

Beth Keehn

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