SUICIDE, Incorporated is an unusual title for a play and one that might have potential audience members scratching their heads when trying to work out whether they will see it.
But when Newcastle's Knock and Run Theatre staged the Australian premiere in 2016 it had watchers sitting on the edge of their seats. The show won that year's CONDA Award for Best Dramatic Production, with people who had not seen it wishing they had gone.
They now have the chance to see it, as Knock and Run is restaging it, with four performances at Newcastle Theatre Company's Lambton venue between March 28 and 30. The company is also looking at touring it to NSW regional centres, with one theatre group already showing interest in hosting it in their town.
The play, by American writer Andrew Hinderaker, begins as a darkly comic work set in the office of a company called Legacy Letters, which helps people who are contemplating committing suicide put together letters to those they are leaving behind that will help to reduce their stress. The firm, of course, imposes a hefty fee on those who use its services.
This revival has substantially the same cast and production team from the 2016 production. Actors James Chapman, Phillip Ross, Carl Gregory and Cooper McDonald have returned, with Ned Keogh replacing Lindsay McDonald, who is now training as an actor at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). Cooper McDonald now works and lives in Melbourne but comes back to Newcastle for the show's weekend rehearsals. Director Patrick Campbell and lighting designer Lyndon Buckley, who were both CONDA-nominated for their work on the initial production, are also involved again.
The story begins with Jason (James Chapman), a young man who has won acclaim for the cheerful greeting cards he has produced for Hallmark, the biggest US-based seller of such cards, being interviewed by the stern Legacy Letters founder, Scott (Phillip Ross), for a position as an editor of the farewell letters that people on the verge of suicide write.
Jason gets the job, with his first client being Norm (Carl Gregory), a man who is planning to suicide because his disastrous marriage has ended and he has also lost his job. As their discussions develop, it becomes clear that Jason has significant family problems of his own, with interactions between Jason and his younger brother, Tommy (Ned Keogh), shown in scenes in Jason's home living room, where Tommy is invariably seen surrounded by empty beer bottles.
The story's other character is Perry (Cooper McDonald), the writer at Legacy Letters who is clearly upset by the intimation that Jason has been hired to replace him.
James Chapman said the audience had a very emotional reaction to Knock and Run's initial staging of the show.
The audience had a very emotional reaction to Knock and Run's initial staging of the show.
"They voiced their compassion because they knew people who had committed suicide," he said. "Suicide is a real problem in Australia, particularly in regional communities. It's the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44, and men and Indigenous people in particular are at a greater risk."
Suicide, Incorporated has performances at the NTC Theatre, in DeVitre Street, Lambton, on Thursday and Friday, March 28 and 29, at 7pm, and on Saturday, March 30, at 12pm and 8pm. Tickets: $20. Bookings: newcastletheatrecompany.com.au; 4952 4958.
- Lifeline 13 11 14
The Vicar of Dibley
Theatre on Brunker, St Stephen's Church Hall, Adamstown. Ends April 6.
THE continuing popularity of the television series The Vicar of Dibley, which comprised 20 episodes presented between 1992 and 2007, is shown by the selling out of this season of one of its stage adaptations well before it opened on March 15.
And the laughter raised by the characters' words and actions was unending throughout this version.
This 2017 theatre version, adapted by New Zealand writer George Arthur-Amohau from the TV scripts by Richard Curtis and Paul Mayhew-Archer, was different to the one staged at Hamilton's DAPA Theatre in 2017.
Both began with the unexpected arrival of a female vicar at a church in a British rural community in the early 1990s, which was when women were initially given such a role in the UK, leading to consternation to the appointment. The various reactions of the predominantly male members of the church parish council to her appointment as a replacement for a male clergyman, are amusingly brought out.
Where the version presented in 2017 took the vicar and the council members through a laugh-raising Easter celebration, this one has the vicar, Geraldine Granger, trying to raise money to replace a large broken church window.
Director Lee Mayne and the actors do a good job in bringing out their interactions.
Amanda Woolford's Geraldine is certainly more adept at getting things done than the arguing parishioners, as shown by her responses to a wealthy business man (Andrew Jones). The vicar also helps to get together young couple Hugo (Andrew Black), the son of millionaire David Horton (Mark Lidbury), and easily confused verger Alice Tinker (Sandy Aldred).
The other council members, played by Robert Comber, Brian Wark, Cathy Maughan and Colin Campbell, are colourfully different in natures and attitudes.