It was said to Arthur Miller that the inclusion of “Death” in the title of his play “Death of a Salesman” would damage audience attendence as no one would want to see a play that so clearly telegraphed the end of the play… and that it would be somewhat depressing… However, since it’s first production, Miller’s play has gone onto be performed constantly somewhere in the world at any given point in time- highlighting the fact that sometimes theatre managers/script editors should perhaps hold their tongues…

Death in Bowengabbie is the play with which Caleb Lewis was nominated for the 2009 Philip Parsons Young Playwrights Award – having enjoyed a season at the Adelaide Fringe in 2009. For me was the only play of the five finalists, I had not seen. Interestingly- three of the five PA Award finalists have had their shows produced at the Old Fitzroy Hotel- a venue which is now the primary avenue for New Australian plays by emerging and young writers to see their work performed, since the Griffin Independent Season has changed to housing “the best new international scripts” to compliment their all-Australian mainstage season.

The play follows Oscar’s return to his hometown of Bowengabbie – a town build and ruined by his fruit farming forebears- to attend a funeral. On the cusp of all things “successful,” he is engaged to Ruth- has a job offer in Dubai and hasn’t been back to Bowengabbie in sometime.
While he is back (for a series of themed funerals) he is reacquainted with the people who stayed and begins to question the life he is leading.

Scattered darkbrown suitcases, gleaming glass jars empty of jam- fringed by fallen sycamore leaves- and a collection of anitque “junk” – this set is the most sophisticated, simple- elegant and atmospheric I have seen perhaps ever at the Old Fitz… it’s like I can smell the houses of Bowengabbie- and I can hear the crackle of the radio playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from the kitchen of a soft skinned nanna… Verity Hampson’s set is perfect.

Andrew Brackman is a charming and energetic Oscar who morphs and evolves across many characters… a carousel of differing ages, genders and backgrounds who keeps the story evenly paced and clear… adding moments of theatrical delight as he paints pictures with simple props and costume.

In Death in Bowengabbie it is the script which is the star of the show- poetic and heartfelt, textured and unpretentious… Lewis has woven together a fabric of words which reveals and conceals in equal measure- allowing us to see and reflect on what it is to go home- what it means to be estranged from where you grew up- what the true value of progress is… Funny, and tender – Lewis has balanced love story with funerals; progress with exploitation; country with city in a loving yet whimsical way. If nothing else, the words caught my breath and gave me a lump in my throat, as I sat transported and enthralled by the story…

It’s easy to see why this was the well loved yarn of Adelaide’s Fringe… simple, funny, tender and brave…This is honest, authentic storytelling, beautifully written and the best piece of Australian theatre I have seen in six months. Lewis and Brackman have done a stunning job- and more than ever, I want to return to my own “Bowengabbie,” gaze at the stars whilst eating a soft serve.