Above photo : Masego Pitso, Ursula Yovich in THE LEWIS TRILOGY. Pic Brett Boardman

Paul Capsis and Philip Lynch in THE LEWIS TRILOGY. Pic Brett Boardman
Philip Lynch and William Zappa in THE LEWIS TRILOGY. Pic Brett Boardman
Paul Capsis, Ursula Yovich, William Zappa, Nikki Viveca, Masego Pitso in THE LEWIS TRILOGY
Darius Williams, William Zappa, Thomas Campbell, Nikki Viveca, Ursula Yovich, Masego Pitso in THE LEWIS TRILOGY. Pic Brett Boardman

The SBW Stables Theatre, the home of the Griffin Theatre Company, whose mandate is to solely perform Australian works, is now in its 50th year. The theatre is about to undergo a major refurbishment which will see the theatre closed for 18 months, and with its future shows being  performed in other venues around town. At this, in its own way momentous time for this much loved theatre company, its Aristic Director Declan Greene determined that he wanted the old SBW Stables Theare to go out with a bang, with an impactful, major production. He chose one of Australia’s premiere playwright’s Louis Nowra who has lived in the Darlinghurst, Kings Cross area for many years, giving it an added authenticity. Greene got in touch with Nowra with the idea of putting on a trilogy of his Lewis play, the Lewis Trilogy, comprising Nowra’s plays, ‘Summer Of The Aliens’, ‘Cosi’ and ‘This Much Is True’. Nowra greenlighted it and the culmination is THE LEWIS TRILOGY which opened at the Stables last Saturday afternoon with the plays running back to back.

Each of Nowra’s three plays is a memory play,  a phrase coined by the great American dramatist Tennessee Williams. The term described an autobiographical play or part thereof which sees the playwright step to one side of the stage and observe and at times comment on the action as we see him/herself as a young person going through through some of the experiences that moulded his/her character. Williams himself was a brilliant exponent of the genree. His play ‘The Glass Menagerie’, a memory/tribute play to his sister Rose is just exquisite.

Though not on the same level as Williams,  Nowra’s three plays evocatively capture the time, the place and the characters that filled his life at different intervals in his life.

In the first play of the trilogy, SUMMER OF THE ALIENS, we see Nowra looking back at his experiences as a sensitive, perplexed teenager growing up in suburban Melbourne whose way of coping was to fantasise about aliens taking over, and having skewered friendships with a girl friend called Dulcie and a guy called Brian who was obsessed with making moves on girls.

In COSI we see the playwright reliving the time in his early twenties when he directed a group of  psych patients performing their production of Mozart’s classic opera, Cosi FanTutte.  Comic mayhem ensues as Lewis tried to get a collection of misfits to, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, fit in enough to be able to put on the opera. Lewis has a genuine tussle with Roy who believes that he is the show’s real director.

In the final play, THIS MUCH IS TRUE, we see Nowra writing a play based on his time frequenting the Old Fitz hotel in Woolloomooloo and some of its memorable characters. He fictionalises the Old Fitz by renaming it The Rising Sun, with it no doubt being a nod to the classic folk blues song, ‘The House Of The Rising Sun’. Often when I would attend Redline Productions at the Old Fitz I would see Nowra drinking with friends in the front bar. Did these friends know that they might be material for a future play?  The play includes very theatrical characters such as drug chemist Clarrie, transsexual Venus, a sweet, baby faced  guyRhys who has darker traits and a gentle natured barmaid Gretel who everyone goes for a chinwag.

THE LEWIS TRILOGY proves to be a super engaging theatre package and  a great way to leave this sacred space for Australian theatre behind  as it receives its much needed makeover.

This collection of shows is a must see with its colourful array of characters, so astutely observed. An ensemble cast of eight actors sweep across the three plays. It is thrilling to see and  enjoy. No doubt every audience  member will have their own favourite performances. Just to put my hat in the ring,  Philip Lynch as the young Lewis, William Zappa as the narrator and Paul Capsis as the manic Roy were gems. My favourite performance however was Ursula Yovich as debt collector Malcolm with a truly menacing quality.

Greene’s direction is assured, and full of conviction,  as is the work of his creative team who were all at the top of their game in helping the actors to weave their spell on the audience. Chief amongst them;  Jeremy Allen’s compact set, Kelsey Lee lit the stage brilliant, Daniel Herten’s evocative soundscape, Melanie Liertz’s great costumes.

Word of mouth is sure to travel about this production. See it whilst you can still get tickets. Griffin Theatre Company’s production of THE LEWIS TRILOGY is playing the SBW Stables Theatre until 21 Aprtl 2024.

Production photography is by Brett Boardman.