As I sat in the near full Studio at the Empire a couple of nights ago, I was conscious of the fact that there were Murri audience members all around. Now, that doesn’t happen very often in Toowoomba. Why not is another question.
Why such a mixed audience was there on a cold night on a Thursday was because deBase’s production of Chasing the Lollyman was in town. The play, which had its first production in Brisbane in 2010, is currently on tour through the auspices of Artour Queensland. It was NAIDOC week and the only opportunity locals would get to see a play whose reputation has preceded it. It was, in fact, a perfect time to come together and spend an evening with Mark Sheppard one of the funniest stand-up comedians working today. Chasing the Lollyman is a very personal one-man show about identity, and grounded in the idea and power of family. Mr Sheppard’s story as a gay, Aboriginal man – a Muluridgi man from Mareeba, a small country town in far-north Queensland – unfolds over 75 minutes in a space framed by a perfectly-designed touring set – a series of poles decorated with indigenous-style motifs. They are actually boxes that contain items to accompany the stories he tells, either as symbols or costume pieces and props.
Mr Sheppard traces his background in a series of yarns, terrific contemporary-traditional dance pieces, song, and audience interaction – for once, the interaction part isn’t embarrassing. He kicks over a lot of barriers along the way, all without a trace of bitterness. He talks to us, with us – now a part of his ‘family’ – and, for me at least, gave permission to lose the guilt for a bit and laugh along with him at the really, really funny stories about his own family and the patronising liberal attitudes to indigenous Australians. Chasing the Lollyman‘s laughter and gentle approach mask generations of hurt and sadness, but they are never far from the surface, and why should they be?
I was unprepared for the powerful way the play’s...