Only quite early into his tenure, Brisbane Arts Theatre is undergoing a revival under the artistic directorship of Ron Kelly.
Not only has he managed to throw open the doors to the theatre’s would-be hirers, securing a much-needed dispersal of the theatre’s financial risk and allowing younger companies to take advantage of the theatre’s position and resources, but it seems he has had the added effect of inspiring some talented and high-profile performers to return to the well-trodden boards at Petrie Terrace. In title and casting then, A New Way To Pay Old Debts is a somewhat appropriate and celebratory production for the Arts to mount, and is a great opportunity to witness the new direction in which the company is moving.
A New Way To Pay Old Debts – a Renaissance melodrama rarely mounted in favour of Shakespearean alternatives, is brisk and entertaining. It follows the exploits of a heroic gent (Vanja Matula) and the widow of a landowner (Jess McGaw), both disenfranchised by the financially manipulative Sir Giles Overreach (Steven Tandy), as they both seek to exact justice or achieve recompense. Young foolish lovers, goonish henchmen, and idiosyncratic, entertaining servants, stack with the primary interplay and add lightness to the sometimes pitch-darkness of the central villain.
As far as Brisbane theatre is concerned, Tandy’s up there with the royalty. Often cast as the villain in recent years, the intimacy of the Arts Theatre gives us the chance to witness the charm, energy and detail in his performances that make him one of the best. Overreach is wrought suitably dry and miserly, and Tandy’s tall, broad figure adds a secondary dimension of intimidation to the already intellectually imposing character.
Jess McGaw, a long-time Arts Theatre contributor, gives another engaging performance. She is refreshingly realistic and grounded in comparison to some of the period stylisation the production has been treated to, and cleanses the palate with her energised calmness and control.
Matula’s charisma-filled hero and Cameron Hurry’s impeccable comic timing as the waiter both stand out in the large, dedicated and talented cast. Chancie Jessop’s abstract period versus contemporary technology design was subtle and well realised in the always space-challenged Arts Theatre proscenium.
An entertaining production with real star power, A New Way To Pay Old Debts signposts a promising trajectory for the future of the Brisbane Arts Theatre.