Tequila Mockingbird: four parts Tequila, one part Green Crème de Menthe Liqueur, one part freshly squeezed lime juice, and a slash of Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning To Kill a Mockingbird for flavour. Blended on high in an outback Australian setting for 90 minutes. shake & stir.
Written by shake & stir’s Co-Artistic Director Nelle Lee, Tequila Mockingbird is the contemporary Australian story. It’s an unflattering light shone on a country fast becoming known for its intolerant of outsiders (a peculiar situation for a country in which two-thirds of the population were not born here), and exposing a willingness of some Australians to turn a blind eye towards domestic violence. It’s an uncomfortable and somewhat embarrassing look Australia. But in order to fix a problem, first we must see that a problem exists, and Tequila Mockingbird is a fun away to present a hard lesson. It’s a bold and clever play, that while dealing with truly dark subject matter, manages to punctuated the gloom with many laugh out loud funny moments. Tequila Mockingbird is a story that would easily translate to cinema.
The core character archetypes presented in Tequila Mockingbird closely resemble that of To Kill a Mockingbird, the overarching plot is somewhat similar, and the main subject matter of racism, assumed guilt, and persecution are still being examined. Aside from that, Tequila Mockingbird is a very different and new story.
Set design, by Josh McIntosh, though clearly built for touring, shows amazing creative use of space. A few simple steel scaffolding frames moved around create the illusion of shifting scenes, such as a bar or an outback fence, but much is left to the imagination. Lighting, by Jason Glenwright, is a highlight of this production—the lighting during the courtroom scene being particularly noteworthy. However, it’s the combination of lighting and set that occasionally drew gasps of wonder from the audience with lights embedded into the set’s tiled walls cleverly used throughout the play. The music, by Guy Webster, was subtle for the most part, but aided in adding atmosphere during the more tense moments. Subtly for sound is actually a compliment, as it means sound meshes in seamlessly; we only tend to take notice of sound if it’s done bad—or you’re a sound artist. Tequila Mockingbird has above average production values for a production with a team of this size.
The casting for Tequila Mockingbird is good—really good. The shake & stir crew have literally hundreds of performances under their collective belts, so it’s a very safe bet that they’ll all give consummate performances, and of course they did. Nelle Lee gives an especially powerful and moving performance as Rachel, a woman trapped in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. Both Nick Skubij and Ross Balbuziente demonstrate their acting dexterity by take on multiple roles, and combined they represent most of the light and the dark moments of this play. Skubij plays the role of Charlie, and the minor role of the bar fly Dan. He also acted as the narrator from Charlie’s point-of-view, however at times, the delivery of the narration could have been a bit more emotive and in the moment rather than simple direct address to the audience. Balbuziente plays the abusive boyfriend Joel, and Charlie’s dim-witted friend Mitch; the contrast between the two roles was quite impressive.
Bryan Probets gave a solid performance as Richard, the defence lawyer who moved back up from Sydney with his misguided mischief-maker son Charlie. The journey of the strained relationship between father and son was a nice sub-plot, adding depth to the piece.
But the standout performance goes to Barbara Lowing who also tackled multiple roles as: Sue, the over enthusiastic bar owner; Karen, the annoying self-serving though well-meaning mother of Mel; and Trish, Joel’s Bogan mother. The latter, Trish the Bogan, being a real delight to watch, speaking in flawless Boganese that will cause many of the audience to flash back to time served in retail. And finally, introducing to the shake & stir crew Shannon Haegler, as the foreign new-to-town and predominately unwelcome doctor. Haegler did a good job in playing a well-intentioned professional, caught up in the wrong situation at the wrong time.
The entire cast had well-drawn characters and were extremely watchable. Given the current political atmosphere in Australia, this is a poignant and insightful play that is well worth seeing.
The Australian premiere season of Tequila Mockingbird opens at Cremorne Theatre in the Queensland Performing Arts Centre from 21 August to 7 September.