Audiences at 'The Colony' can expect to be immersed in startling diversity
Epic: the cast of The Colony, part of Jute's Indie Season.
TO say that The Colony is an eclectic play is an understatement. Written for the stage by Graham Henderson and based on his novella of the same name, it features song, dance, drama, visual art and film, and sports a talented cast and crew from a variety of disciplines, the likes of which it would be hard to muster anywhere in Australia.The costume designer is Melbourne-born Linda Jackson, named a pioneer of Australian fashion by Vogue.
She was asked by co-producer and director of the show Willem Brugman to be part of the production when he saw her exhibition at The Tanks Arts Centre in 2009.
Part of Linda's exhibition was nature-based clothing dyed in colours created from red mangrove.
The Colony is about the last days of a group of lepers who have been cast out of society on to an island, and it confronts universal issues like love and loss, death, and the essence of life.
Now at rehearsals at The Centre of Contemporary Arts, Linda delights in seeing her creations in action.
"It's really exciting to see them worn, and not as sculpture or installation; to see them come to life," she says.
The costumes are styled on the look of the barrier reef and rainforest environment.
Linda has a wide artistic background. She created nature-inspired dresses in Sydney with Jenny Kee at Flamingo Park boutique, collaborated with a number of artists on projects, and started two clothing design labels solo, Bush Couture and Bush Kids.
"Theatre has been a passion for me for decades," Linda says.
"I did shows in the '70s and '80s and had a stage in my studio in Sydney, where we did cabarets.
"It was much more theatre than just fashion shows."
Linda has also collaborated with indigenous people between Darwin and Alice Springs to create clothing inspired by the environment.
She came to Cairns for an interior design project on a hotel and now lives in Mossman, where she combines art and fashion.
Linda describes her exquisitely detailed and hand-painted costumes for The Colony as being very loose and easy to wear, and says they are particularly appropriate for dancing. Add in scenography by Guy and Gina Allain, who have to their credit films such as Moulin Rouge and Rabbit Proof Fence and it seems likely to be a visually spectacular production.
It's the first outing for theatre man Willem Brugman's The Centre for Australasian Theatre, which he created with Catherine Hassall, and he has amassed talent from all over the globe for a performance of mixed disciplines.
At rehearsals this week, he is bringing together sound from Whitfield from ARIA award-winning Nigel Pegrum, film shot in Kamerunga, sets including ghostnets currently on display at Tanks Arts Centre and made by Aurukun artists Mavis Ngallametta and Craig Koomeeta, as well as a diverse cast for the first time.
It sounds like a logistical nightmare but Willem seems unfazed.
"It is very exciting if you are looking for creative activity," he says. "It is a high-risk adventure."
With cast onstage for the entire duration of music, film, dance, and circus performance, Willem expects The Colony to be an immersive experience and hopes audiences are emotionally moved.
"I hope they come away with a feeling about the impossible beauty of life," he says.
Catherine Hassall's choreography challenges her performers in a hybrid of dance using styles from Butoh (contemporary Japanese) to flamenco.
Piers Freeman, well known in the Far North as circus performer Mr P in KurandaCoots, plays Hamlet, an obsessive writer in The Colony, but still manages to get some circus tricks into the show, making a speech whilst juggling a hat and balancing an umbrella on his nose.
Warren Clements, who dances for Tjapukai and has acted in myriad productions in Cairns, plays three roles, including a medicine man and a spirit who takes people from life to death and beyond.
Actress Sue Hayes, who plays Christmas, describes the performance as "almost a continuous dance".
"It is really physical and really beautiful and deeply moving," she says.
Whatever the ultimate shape of the piece, the group seem extraordinarily happy with their work and in each others company.
For singer songwriter Jeremiah Johnson, who is in his first acting role playing Minstrel Joe, the biggest challenge is leaving the play behind when rehearsals finish.
"It is a wonderful experience," he says.
"I hate going home at the end of the day because I just love the process."