AN EPIC story with a cast of just five that’s been resonating with regional audiences is on its way to Tamworth’s Capitol Theatre this weekend.
Thomas Murray and the Upside Down River will take the stage on Saturday, described as an “edge-of-your-seat Australian drama” with a “thrilling, almost cinematic” final act.
With themes of love, family secrets and the land, the play is set along the Murray-Darling River.
Just as the once-mighty flow has receded to reveal a churned-up, muddy trickle, a reunion between three childhood friends brings up a long-buried undercurrent of lies, betrayal and prejudice.
The play stars Grant Cartwright, Francesca Savige, Bjorn Stewart, Nicholas Papademetriou and Valerie Bader.
Papademetriou, who plays several supporting roles, told The Leader the first production of the play had been particularly well-received when it hit Lismore in 2016.
This time, staging company Stone Soup and touring theatre firm Critical Stages will tour a new season to mostly rural and regional areas across Australia.
“This is a really deep story, very complex and multi-layered but a really good tale, a good story, a good yarn; I think that’s why people love it,” Papademetriou said.
“It has a strong narrative; the characters are very strong and people go on the journey with them.”
The plot is about Thomas Murray (Cartwright), a fifth-generation farmer whose property is in severe drought and whose marriage has broken down, when his ex-girlfriend Lucy (Savige) and former best friend Billy (Stewart) return to the area.
A journey down the river becomes a dig into the past, where the skeletons in the closet are devastatingly real.
Papademetriou said he believed regional audiences appreciated plays such as this: high-quality without being inaccessibly highbrow.
“I think a problem with a lot of touring is sometimes it can be very – and this is a gross value judgement now, but this how I look at theatre – it can be a little bit too arty,” he said.
“When I go to the theatre, I don’t want someone to have to explain what it means, explain the symbolism.
“I don’t want to have to read the program to be able to make sense of it.
“I want to go watch it, understand it, be moved by it and have a good time.”
Papademetriou said the darkly humorous play was really Cartwright, Savige and Stewart’s show.
“Valerie and I play assorted parents, crazy tourists, dead sheep and family ghosts,” he laughed.
The dark humour, however, didn’t diminish the themes: “The issues in it are very far-reaching”.
“It has three very strong stories: the story of the land, which is very much reflected in the set, lighting and soundtrack – which is beautiful; there’s a strong indigenous story that goes through it; and a very strong love story that goes through it.
“It’s very cleverly put together to make this really epic story with five people, that starts at one end of the river and ends at the other, hundreds of kilometres away.
“The emotions are as large as the landscape.”
Among his roles, Papademetriou – Australian-born with a Greek Cypriot heritage – plays “two quintessentially Aussie characters, and dynastic characters, from old Australian farming families”.
“It’s a wonderful thing to get that … because I often get to play the ‘Greek father with accent’ still, the ‘Lebanese father with accent’.”
The actor said he’d like to see more representation of “Australian” characters encompassing people with diverse backgrounds who were born in Australia, “if the story allows”.
“When the character is just ‘young man, 30s, lives in Sydney’, there’s no reason, unless there’s something very specific about their background, that they can't be any race,” he said.
“The bottom line is, you only have to see a snapshot of any town anywhere and there's lots of different-coloured skin walking down the street.
“We’re a very multicultural nation now; it’s certainly not just Sydney.”
- Thomas Murray and the Upside Down River will be at the Capitol Theatre on Saturday at 8pm.
- Tickets: entertainmentvenues.com.au/events/897/Thomas_Murray