A collaboration between writer Norman Price (Urban Dingoes, Barking Dogs) and Brisbane-based performer and choreographer Lisa O’Neill, The Pineapple Queen started life back in 2004 inspired by an old text of Price’s. I first saw the piece during its creative development phase in 2007 and much has changed since then.
Back then it was raw, visceral and delved into far darker territory. With roots in the anti-art manifesto of Dadaism it was an unsettling experience, strongly focused on the physicality of the performers Lisa O’Neill and Michael Coughlan.
Dramaturgy by director Ian Lawson for La Boite Theatre Company has taken the original raw elements and transformed The Pineapple Queen into a piece of darkly comic, surreal and affecting physical theatre. Lawson had said that in taking on the project he wanted to unleash the performers’ physical brilliance and unite all the elements of Price and O’Neill’s vision.
After having seen the creative development I can’t say that I feel that O’Neill has been “unleashed”. Her performance here is more restrained, potent with the suggestion of power. And given the disturbing nature of the material being explored this serves the story well.
O’Neill totally inhabits the Pineapple Queen, a woman whose personal mythologies and carefully constructed internal script is being eroded through continual retelling. Disappointed by love and the sad realities of marriage to her brutish husband (Michael Coughlan), the Pineapple Queen lives in a crumbling world of celluloid dreams, party dresses and sparkling tiara’s.
The tighter she clings to her dream world the faster it starts to slip away, until there is nothing left but the empty reality. As the man who courts, marries and eventually destroys her, Michael Coughlan is a revelation. Like O’Neill he has been trained in the Suzuki method, a rigorous acting practice demanding total body control, and the scenes in which he and O’Neill clash are powerful.
The element that has changed the most since the creative development showing is Price’s script. The extreme darkness of the original has been tempered by a new wit and lyricism. The story too is tighter, coming full circle to lend the sad tale moving relevance. And I was relieved to see that the collaborative team resisted the temptation to give the story a happy ending.
The video design (Jen Jackson) and lighting (David Walters) are stunning. Jackson’s design in particular beautifully captures The Pineapple Queen’s strange internal and external environments. Music by Guy Webster lends an eerie atmosphere to the whole.
The Pineapple Queen is a stunning piece of collaborative physical theatre and a credit to all those involved. So if you like your fairytales twisted make sure you get along to see this powerful and original show – the season ends 8 August.
La Boite Theatre Company presents an O'Neill and Price Production in association with Southbank Institute of Technology
The Pineapple Queen
Created by Norman Price and Lisa O'Neill | Written by Norman Price
Director & Dramaturg Ian Lawson
Venue: Roundhouse Theatre
Dates: 28 July - 8 August 2009
Bookings: www.laboite.com.au or 07 3007 8600