Many thanks to Lisa Southgate and Matthew Southgate for this guest post on Margi Brown Ash’s play Home
Mother: I heard about Home accidentally. At the end of another Queensland Theatre Company event a woman with purple glasses and a mad fountain of white hair stood up and asked us to come to her show too. ”It’s a mother-son show, and it’s a story about belonging,” said Margi Brown Ash, actor, writer, and psychotherapist. ”The theory of the show is that it’s about you. It’s my story, but it’s your story, too.”
Zing. And I knew just who my date would be.
”Really?” asked my twenty-something son. ”A one-woman show?”
Matthew is no stranger to theatre. His first show, Sweet Bird of Youth, was experienced through the womb. He kicked me all the way through it. The kid’s hard to please.
”It’s a mother-and-son show,” I said. ”And it also involves the audience.”
”Audience participation?” Now he sounded scared.
Surprisingly, he agreed. And fortunately, because I couldn’t get a carpark. It’s a common theme around the Bille Brown Theatre, in Brisbane’s West End. After the fifth drive-around, I booted Matthew out. ”Go – I’ll catch up.”
By the time I slipped into the dark warmth of the studio, Home was well advanced. Before us was a level performance space containing chairs, some gleaming perspex installations, and Margi Brown Ash, gleefully pulling people out of the audience and telling them what to do, as we did in childhood: ”You be my mum! You say this!”
At an upright piano was Margi’s own son Travis Ash, playing his own composition. His moody, beautiful theme and his spoken score wound in and out of his mother’s narrative. Travis followed his youthful hubris — ”Old people work, the young change the world” — and his own growing awareness of that world. He recalled falling in love with the theatre when just a few years old, and later playing Hamlet. He’s an arresting performer, and he plays one silky piano. But it is the mother’s experiences that claim me.
Zipping back and forth through time, Margi is a frazzled mum, sobbing over the washing machine then taxi-ing a station-wagon full of kids. Now she’s an excited teenager herself, bound for the U.S. as an exchange student, sobbing on the plane. Now, she’s an adult again, her children grown, her duties discharged. She leaves her husband: ”And we return to the theatre. The place where we belong.”
And now she’s working in television, preparing for a suicide scene on Number 96—
I sit up. Number 96 was the 1970’s Australian soapie I was too young to watch. I tiptoed out of bed and watched it from the dark hallway. I saw boobies, I saw a man receive threatening notes from another of his multiple personalities, I saw two men gaze at each other with lust.
Now Margi tells of moving to Brisbane. ”The place we love to hate, the place we hate to leave.”
This show is about me.
Margi’s inspiration came in 2010 as she sipped coffee in her home in Brisbane’s west. She was surrounded by evidence of a life filled with family, friends and dog, when she received a text from her daughter Micaela telling of people whose homes were destroyed by the Israeli military. Struck by the contrast of those worlds, Margi set to work with her long-time collaborator Leah Mercer.
The Margi in Home seems to find her belonging in her own restlessness. As the show glides towards its conclusion, she is in Egypt. ”Our comfort zones are large now,” she says. ”They swim around us.”
I realise the play is ending, and experience a shot of grief. I don’t want this to end.
Son: The show begins with the story of the ancient Egyptian deities Isis, Seth and Osiris. Seth murders Osiris and divides him into many pieces. His wife Isis desperately searches for his remains, while telling tales of him and building temples all over Egypt. An uncommon story but not a rare one as I’d heard the myth before. This version focuses more on Isis and her personal journey, setting the tone for the whole play.
Despite this being called Home, or perhaps because of it, many of the stories involve moving: studying desperately for a scholarship in America, moving back, doing tours, following an acting career, moving from Sydney to Brisbane, living in New York, or just struggling with being a mother.
Throughout the show many other small narratives are played out with audience members taking on roles which are relatable and familiar. There were also realistic stories from the outside, that unless you’re living with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears, you’ve at least heard of: struggling shell-shocked Vietnam veterans, a family whose house was suddenly demolished in Palestine.
The stage had a strange collection of transparent cubes and a cardboard house used as props and scene settings. The low illumination in the theatre made it hard to see anything with clarity, but perhaps that was the point. There was no anchoring, no focal point beyond the formless concept of home, change and belonging.
Overall the show really fits the name Home. Watching it gave me a nostalgic comfortable feeling. I was surprised at how much I actually liked it; I usually find one person or two person plays rather dull.
The culmination is an experience that lives up to its name. You leave the theatre feeling refreshed and satisfied.
Mother: Wow. That’s a rave review.
Home has finished its current run but you can buy the script through Playlab. And you should.
Lisa Southgate is a Brisbane-based writer of creative nonfiction and fiction. She was short-listed for the Finch Memoir Prize in 2014, and has a short memoir coming out in the US later this year. Most recently, she has written a play about parental guilt.
Matthew Southgate was born in Brisbane and grew up acting. He’s an excellent researcher and plans to write science fiction, travel the world signing books, and support his mother in royal fashion.