Theatre Is Junk

31 March 2012 | 11:17 am | Paul Ransom

Since 2004 The Suitcase Royale have been reshaping Australiana with bits of discarded corrugated iron. However the time has come for the trio to tackle the king of the wombats.

 Question: What do you get if cross a wombat with a zombie? Answer: Junkyard theatre.

Returning to Australia after blitzing the Edinburgh Fringe and touring the UK and US, comic theatre trio The Suitcase Royale have lobbed into Melbourne with a collection of junk and a crazy idea about zombie wombats in the red centre.

This week, their international hit Zombatland makes its Oz premiere and, as Suitcase Royale spokesman Joseph Neil O'Farrell points out, the idea didn't spring from the zombie craze but from Wilson's Prom campsites, where hungry wombats were conducting nocturnal raids on campers and making off with their dinner.

“We thought, 'how cool is that?'” O'Farrell explains. “Also, we were kinda obsessed with films like The Cars That Ate Paris and Wake In Fright and that whole idea of the town hall meeting. I mean, what if that meeting was called because in the middle of night these dark demonic creatures, which were basically just fat wombats, were attacking the townsfolk?”

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

With its somewhat schlock aesthetic, Zombatland fits perfectly into the Suitcase Royale oeuvre. “Our worlds are very fantastical,” O'Farrell reveals. “We usually start with the idea of the town in the middle of nowhere, or in this case, the caravan park, and we kinda just use that as a jumping off point. Our aesthetic is quite colonial; but this one in particular was really inspired by the Ozploitation movies of the '60s and '70s.”

However, crazed desert wombats aren't all you get because O'Farrell and his cohorts (Glen Lawrence Walton and Miles Henry O'Neil) specialise in what they call junkyard theatre, in which the sets are constructed with found objects and bits of junk scavenged from various roadsides and building sites. Indeed The Suitcase Royale have become as well known for their staging style as for their song-ladened comic theatre creations.

Recalling their early days, O'Farrell jokes that “being poor means you find your best props on the side of the road.” Necessity soon turned to invention, though. “It quickly became our own style,” O'Farrell adds. “You can find things on the side of road and then turn them into inventions that look good under dim lighting… Our work is a nod to the Australian backyard tinkerer; y'know, the guy in the garage with his weird inventions.”

Naturally, building sets out of junk has its issues. “It makes things interesting because if half the set is junk it's pretty prone to falling apart during shows, so we definitely have to incorporate that into our work.”

Indeed at a recent UK gig a set collapse resulted in a member of the audience clambering on stage with a drill and re-building it whilst the show continued. It's exactly the kind of organic, semi-chaotic style of theatre that The Suitcase Royale embrace. “We're a theatre company but we're also a band and a comedy trio. So I guess it's just a whole junk yard of stuff. It's a real smash-together of genres,” O'Farrell declares proudly. “We're interested in making shows that, well, they're more like a party really.”

With Zombatland that junkyard party moves into the mythical Aussie caravan park with a shedload of bits and pieces, a willingness to break into song and a plan, at last, to combat the wombat.