Dark Tales

29 August 2014 | 2:42 pm | Helen Stringer

Klutz is about finding the funny in the macabre.

By rights you should hate Ben Schostakowski, and not just because it took 15 minutes to correctly spell ‘Schostakowski’. No, we should hate Schostakowski because he’s of those horrible young people who don’t just have ideas, they make ideas happen. These are the horrid abominations who actually do shit. Young Schostakowski has been making theatre since his time as a student at QUT. Schostakowski has since departed our fine shores for Sydney where he’s working both at NIDA and some other top secret TV work.

Schostakowski started making his own shows during his QUT degree. “I started to get more and more opportunities to put on shows,” he says, “I guess my first real break with a show was A Tribute Of Sorts.” Which was a macabre, sepia-toned romp inspired by writer Edward Gorey’s dark book about infant death, The Gashlycrumb Tinies. A Tribute Of Sorts was picked up for development by La Boite and the show opened to rave reviews: quirky, original, dark and beautifully weird. Even Schostakowski was surprised: “It was just a pitch of an idea… I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull it off; I was so young, I was a nervous wreck…just freaking out. It was a pretty dark comedy and we wanted to push the boundaries slightly, but that can be dangerous; if you go too far then a whole bunch of people in the industry can just go, ‘You haven’t ticked the boxes.’”

New show Klutz began life as Schostakowski’s NIDA graduation piece. “It’s another tragicomedy I wrote.” The play centres on a young Jewish “chap”, as Schostakowski says, repeatedly contemplating suicide. Over and over again the protagonist reaches the brink and pulls back from the edge. In a semi-chance encounter the protagonist meets a badminton enthusiast who befriends him, rooftop tennis court included. “They strike up a bit of a friendship and together start to get really serious about rehearsing his funeral.”

Schostakowski is aesthetically intrigued with the kitsch of the 1970s – the nostalgia and twee. A Tribute Of Sorts was like watching Wes Anderson staged. “I’m quite interested in a kind of daggy ‘70s world, rather than something new and shiny. It’s nostalgic, but I guess you think of your grandparents’ house… where all the cool, strange things exist. I’ve always been interested in things that look and feel dusty like that.”

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The theatre-maker’s tastes always lean on the dark side, whether it be untimely infant death or suicide. His dark humour, he say, stems from what he was interested in while he was growing up, “Tim Burton and Roald Dahl and TV shows like Round The Twist… I guess I find that’s where a lot of true comedy is, in the dark depths, because people try to forget about it or become be serious about it. It’s a strange mix for humour, but the darker you get the funnier it is.” 

9 — 13 Sep, Brisbane Festival, Theatre Republic, QUT, The Loft