The Courier Mail – Phil Brown

Brisbane theatre restarts with a gritty play staged in a church

It’s set in the gritty suburbs of East London so it seemed appropriate that while watching the confronting play Vincent River we could hear trains and traffic and the occasional siren.

It really added to the atmosphere inside historic Christ Church in Chippendall Street (the land that time forgot), the new venue for local independent outfit The Curators’ Theatre.

Their new play marks the rebooting of theatre in Brisbane with precious little else on in the theatrical scene right now, although things are starting to shape up.

The experience of going to Vincent River, a play by Philip Ridley, about the aftermath of the murder of a young gay man in London, was as much about the venue for me. What a hidden treasure it is, a historic old church in a dead end behind Suncorp Stadium which towers above it.

Having theatre happening in the shadow of our main stage for rugby league is a nice synergy. Having a play about homophobia in an Anglican church is ironic considering how strident some Anglicans are about that issue.

Anglicans are mostly tolerant but in Australia there are some unattractively conservative diocese.

But hey, Christ Church isn’t a church any more - the congregation has moved elsewhere - it’s a theatre now.

This church theatre is a funky inner urban spot and inside the seating is socially distanced with ambient lighting and the action taking place in the middle with the audience around it and no, you don’t sit on pews, they have comfy chairs.

This creates an intimacy that makes the drama all the more powerful. It’s a two-hander starring Amanda McErlean as Anita, a tough East Ender grieving for her dead son. When a young man, Davey (Patrick Shearer) turns up she wonders what his connection was to her dead son who was obviously killed in a homophobic attack by street toughs.

The play is about the result of an LGBTQI hate crime and was first staged in London in 2000 and revived at the Trafalgar Studios in London’s West End in 2018 to some acclaim.

It’s a histrionic piece with drama and tension building and spilling over and it’s all the more powerful for being focused on the exchanges between Anita and Davey, exchanges that reach fever pitch at times.

Director and theatre company co-founder Michael Beh has done a fine job and added his own soundtrack for pauses in the action and I walked into the church venue to the strains of that wonderful hymn Jerusalem, so loved by the Barmy Army with lyrics by William Blake no less. Respect. Well, we were in a church so it seemed fitting.

Some of Beh’s musical choices for the piece itself are a real treat ....including music by Bronski Beat (haven’t heard them for ages), Donovan, The Clash ...are you with me? ...and Kate Bush, among others.

A lovely touch that helps frame this British play.

If you know the East End you will smile at the mention of places such as Brick Lane, Shoreditch and Bethnall Green, pure cockney territory that is now very multicultural.

Plaudits to McErlean and Shearer for getting through it. Two-handers with that much dialogue are demanding but they pulled it off. The fact that they smoked on stage made it all the more authentic and they drank gin too but I’m assuming that was just water in a gin bottle. Wasn’t it?

Yes the play is confronting at times but considering how homophobic much of the world still is this play still packs a powerful and timely punch. For a night at the theatre with a difference this is it an obscure location that even our cab driver admitted he had never been to. You live and learn, right?



"I no longer take a night at the theatre for granted and this was a brilliant evening seeing ‘Vincent River’ - a very impressive production from independent theatre group The Curators with my awesome fellow opening night-loving buddy Hush Hush Biz.


Cleverly directed by Michael Beh with moving performances from @amandamcerlean and Patrick Shearer, it was an impactful and emotionally raw piece of theatre that I’ll be thinking about for days. And I’m loving The Curators Theatre’s new home at Christ Church in Milton..with the setting really complementing this terrific production. If you want to experience Brissy’s independent theatre scene at its best, I recommend going along - it runs until Oct 31 - and you’ll be supporting live performance which has taken a huge hit this year. Congrats to everyone involved with this quality and memorable production." 

-       Damien Anthony Rossi



"Do not miss this show! Theatre as it is meant to be. Genuine, brave, you can feel the grit in your teeth. An incredible play brilliantly performed and directed. Enormous congratulations to Amanda, Patrick Michael and everyone at The Curators. Stunning!" 

-       Tom Coyle


"Thanks for a brilliant night of theatre. I f#cking loved it. Amanda and Patrick blew up the stage. Excellent f#cking job!!

-       Jesse Richardson



"It's been 10 days since I travelled to Brisbane to experience The Curator's devastatingly brilliant "Vincent River", and I remain deeply moved - almost haunted - by the two tortured souls entwined at the centre of this tale of love, hate, and unbearable loss. Crafted with raw honesty, achingly beautiful sensitivity and sublime artistry, this is an unforgettable work of independent theatre not to be missed." 

-       Jo Hendrie

“'Vincent River' is a triumph on every level.

Last night I went to the opening of a play in Brisbane and that in itself in these dreadful times is amazing, but to be greeted by such an incredible performance really is worth celebrating. The Curators are back and in a new venue which is delightful. A beautiful hall in secluded lawned setting adjacent to a football mecca (Lang Park) with new comfortable seating socially spaced for patrons health.

Philip Ridley's powerful one act play Vincent River was first performed exactly twenty years ago in September 2000 and now it has made it to a stage in Queensland. A topic broader that the story it tackles love, desire, and great yearning. 53 year old Anita (Amanda McErlean) and 17 year old Davey (Patrick Shearer) are the only characters on stage with beautiful sketches made of all the people who influence them off stage. The directing (Michael Beh) was flawless and fabulous with never a let up of focus, placement and with good views from any angle. So important to this was not just the East Enders Set, but the perfectly chosen Music that intersperses the production highlighting moments and adding romance, contrast and placement to the individuals and their passions. Beth Scott's lighting could not have been more evocative and with the limitations of independent theatre she worked wonders gliding from living room to dark train station to nightclub with the flicker of light, shadow and colour. Brilliant.

The protagonists are on the same path from opposite directions. Vincent is already murdered by the time Anita enters. soon followed by her stalker Davey. The passion they have for the murdered boy is driving them both crazy. Anita wants to delve into every gruesome detail of his death because she has to know the incomprehensible and Davey has to understand every nuance of Vincent's life to understand why the closeness was cut so short at the time when Davey himself thought his life had suddenly and eventually changed. He needs to know what he is missing. They butt heads and souls, they drink and they travel from fear to intimacy all in the search for someone else.

The acting is the finest and for over an hour and a half the audience was glued to the proceedings. After the show I met dozens of remarkable theatre people who were all there to celebrate the crawling back of theatre to our city. You have never seen so many delighted people and it was difficult to maintain social distancing were there was such joy at seeing each other and what a stunning bunch they were from every corner of theatre here. Helen, Michael, Zoe, Heidi, Katherine, Virag, Warwick, Ian, Meredith and on it went and I was so pleased to finally meet Lee Lewis the artistic Director of Queensland Theatre who has been locked away since taking up the position, but I assured her I would see her first directorial stint in 'Mouthpiece' soon at the Playhouse. The support from ones fellows is so important and there is also great support like my Cousin Michelle Boyd who was so thrilled she bought 20 tickets last night to be donated to those in need. I have yet to see how this is arranged, but if you are a member of MEAA and perhaps a poor student send me a message and it can be arranged. I firmly believe students of the arts no matter what discipline should go and spread their appreciation and experience around. (Send me a message).

This is a great production and has fabulous performances with all things integrated into making great theatre. It is also a harrowing ride at times, but you can take your lead from the challenges, the smiles, the outbursts and the vulnerability displayed so ravishingly by the two outstanding actors. They are two worthy members of our talented acting fraternity and I believe this is the biggest role for Patrick and I have seen him in several which have all been remarkable and across a range diametrically different to each other. I have said it before  - watch his eyes. Amanda is a force of nature. Power and fragility all in one, compassion and inner anger. and just you wait. She froze my spine with a scream worthy of the best. I thought not since Paul McCartney have I heard such a shattering scream. There are many surprises and delights if you enjoy acting and productions at their best. Yes independent theatre does not have to invest big bucks to make big theatre. Sometimes the over investment of dollars in productions by the travelling monster works have removed all the joy out of that intimate involvement in a work. I love the reality of live theatre because it is like the tension of a circus, Will they fall? Will they hit that Note? Will they move me? Will it be real?”

-       Barry Stone


"The play was, in equal parts, moving and mesmerising. Far from just forbidden raunch - this play puts queer life in perspective, by forcing us to remember the hatred and violence our people had to endure, and overcome. It’s a modern Greek tragedy, filled with lust and grief and love, it’s evocative, and not to be missed." 

-       Joseph Byrne


"Huge congratulations for an epic theatrical adventure." 

-       Heidi Manche


"Wonderful night. All who were there were treated to an evening of human drama that took two brilliant actors and a great director to transfix the audience. Riveting theatre." 

-       Ian Thompson