There was an unexpected but entirely natural connection between two events last Thursday, February 25. The first was the funeral of Christina Green, also known as Christina Riley, whose story appeared in this blog two weeks ago. The second was the opening night of Teacup in a Storm at Q Theatre, Penrith, that evening. It was only Chris’s extraordinary physical strength, her deep spiritual connection with the land and her mental discipline that had allowed her to survive a childhood and adolescence of extreme cruelty and abuse to become an adult where caring for others, including her own four children, was a constant characteristic. Teacup in a Storm was a play created from stories gathered by Therese Cook, actor and teacher, from people who are carers in western Sydney.
Chris’s book, The Life of Riley, above, which detailed her early life of abuse and incarceration, stood prominently on her coffin among the colourful flowers. Her long time counsellor, friend and colleague, Kay Lamport, read a quote from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross to describe Chris and the impact she had on others, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.” She didn’t have an ounce of self-pity and family and friends made frequent reference to her loud laughter and love of talking. Of the many children who came into her care, Kay said Chris had no thought for herself, but was always entirely child centred.
Teacup in a Storm featured lives that have been dramatically altered when people find themselves caring for a family member or friend who is heavily dependent on them. Whether it is an autistic child, a partner increasingly affected by dementia, a teenager who feels cast out when a disabled sibling requires round the clock care, a gay man caring for a foster child, a single mum who has enjoyed her independence but has to resume care for her child after her former partner is killed in a car accident. Each story is different, but there is the constant round of caring, the domestic drudgery, the endless battles with an unresponsive bureaucracy, and more often than not, the social isolation as others fear close contact and time does not allow outings and visits. With multiple roles played by just two people Teacup in a Storm took off into poetic fantasy and fairytale references in an imaginative and illuminating insight into the lives of carers. In one of the roles the carer observes her sleeping child, admitting to a mix of love, sorrow and resentment – such utterly human responses.
Andrew Taylor in the Sydney Morning Herald described the background to the development of Teacup in a Storm in Weaving some magic into the world of carers. Therese Cook proposed the show to Q Theatre’s producer Nick Atkins after having recorded many interviews with carers and drawing on her own experience. A team of four devised the show – Therese and Marie Chanel, pictured above, who were also the performers, writer Noelle Janaczewska, who gave the piece its poetic flow, and Nick Atkins as director. The staging, light and sound took the audience immediately into the ever demanding roundabout of the carer’s life and clearly struck chords for many present.
Q is the resident theatre making program based at Penrith’s Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre, “The Joan”, and a direct descendant of the original Q Theatre. It maintains the original commitment to make contemporary theatre works for the local area and beyond. Tomorrow, Friday, March 4, at 6.30pm, they are presenting another show created with young, local LGBTQI people Project: Whisper as part of Mini Gras ’16. As they say, it is “not about coming out, but about welcoming in”. In the midst of current ugly arguments against gay marriage and the safe schools program, this collaborative project with Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District asks “What are we meant to be other than who we are?” Accepting difference and finding confident voice as an individual is an enriching outcome. Phone 4723 7600 or tickets at the door.