I Love You, Bro // That Production Company

Review by Bradley Chapman

That Production Company is a vital theatrical entity in South-East Queensland. The theatre landscape in this region needs companies and directors that take risks. There are infinite forms that such risks can take, and in the case of TPC’s I Love You, Bro, risk came in the form of an episodic, two-hour one-man show about catfishing, masturbation and schizophrenia performed with a Geordie accent in a transformed business hub in Ipswich. And it’s a risk that paid off.

I Love You, Bro is the story of Johnny, a fourteen-year-old boy (although he narrates from a potentially older perspective via the play’s diagetic theatricality) who falls for Mark, a cyber-companion who thinks Johnny is a girl named Jess. As Johnny tries desperately to ingratiate himself into Mark’s psyche, his lies and manipulations take on a life of their own.

The play’s sole weakness, as with any tech-based drama, is that it was immediately dated. The minimalist aesthetic of the piece meant the time period was not outwardly obvious so the references to webcams and chatrooms felt a little dissociative at first. Although it was clear Johnny was narrating past events, it wasn’t easy to discern how far in the future he existed, making the play’s world a little muddied.

That’s it for the shortcomings though. Everything else about this production was expertly realised.

The most obvious highlight was Jordan Stott in the role of Johnny. The programme lists Stott as an alternate (to Nic Davidson, whom, in fairness, I did not see), but after seeing Stott’s performance I cannot imagine anyone else in the part. This is one of those rare theatrical moments where the actor and the character were one; the role felt like it was written for him. Every beat of his performance was perfectly considered and terrifyingly nuanced. This is no easy feat given the intensity that the role demands, but Stott is one of the region’s most brilliant young actors and his apparent effortlessness in the part is a testament to his daunting talent.

Production design by Pete Keavy was another highlight; a beautiful experience of complex minimalism. There was very little occupying the dim, prison-like cube that Johnny inhabited, but what was there was used so sparingly and so cleverly that it could only be the work of an expert. Keavy’s flawless design is supported by the infallible lighting and sound by Nathaniel Knight and Chris Patrick respectively, whose work elevated and enhanced the tension of Johnny’s story without ever taking away from him as the centre of the piece.

Director Timothy Wynn is a bold provocateur. It’s hard to imagine the process that went into creating this piece, but whatever that process may be it is a masterstroke. It’s directors like Wynn, who are not afraid to show us the darkest parts of ourselves, that SEQ theatres desperately need. Although this season has ended, I hope he continues to push past the conservative boundaries of the SEQ theatre scene and remind audiences of the transformative power of theatre.

And it is my sincerest hope that That Production Company continues to take the risks that desperately need to be taken.

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