The Burning, The Q

1 Aug

Having enjoyed high quality theatre at The Q (in Queanbeyan, if you haven’t guessed) earlier this year, I didn’t have to think twice about purchasing tickets to The Burning – ironically, a very Canberra-local production – when they became available. And – without wanting to lead you to skip the rest of my review – I can confirm these two hours in Queanbeyan are very well spent.

The Q ensures its patrons are well-informed

Think Germany. Think early 1600s.

Think Catholicism. Witches. Heresy. “Trials”.

Think requited and unrequited love. And complicated father and son relationships (yep, more than one).

This is The Burning.

Francis (Jack Parker) has recently graduated university as a lawyer. Not unlike many Canberrans, this 17th century fellow is a critical thinker and he’s questioning his father’s – Bishop Schiller’s (Jarrad West) – role in the persecution of ‘witches’ in the region. Bishop Schiller is pretty firm in his views – and his views of his son’s opposition – and this is apparent in the opening scene, where an inebriated Francis tries to woo local lass Madeline (Amy Dunham) and in doing so makes a few references to his fraught relationship with his father. (Needless to say, the scene ends with Francis planting a kiss on Madeline and her slapping him in return.)

Next, we’re introduced to Bishop Schiller himself. This is the only scene where I think director Duncan Driver has missed the mark, and regrettably it’s the scene that sets up the rest of play. The Bishop and his friends Dr Vasolt (who’s leading the persecution of the heretics), a local magistrate and another ‘friend’ (friendships are really tested in this play) are drinking around a table discussing their various roles in the persecutions and congratulating themselves on their self-righteousness (or – for the final ‘friend’ – their opposition to). In contrast to the rest of the play which makes ample, clever use of the space, the scene’s kept to one small corner of the stage which suggests to me that this isn’t too significant. (I’m wrong.) Eventually, the Francis joins his father’s table – albeit hungover – and, in already defined fashion, argues with his father, who leaves in disgust.

We then meet Dr Vasolt’s son, Frederick (Will Huang), who’s also interested in that local lass, Madeline. Francis – who really is rather charming – intervenes and saves her from Frederick’s clutches. He’s so smooth that she agrees to marry Francis – Frederick understandably isn’t too happy about this. Francis and Madeline move away and begin a happy life, with him successfully practising as a lawyer, and she falling pregnant. They’re concerned about the persecutions, but Francis is convinced his father’s name will protect them both.

It turns out Dr Vasolt’s and Bishop Schiller’s friendship doesn’t count for much. Dr Vasolt comes knocking on Madeline’s door for crimes as a witch (tonight I learned what ‘succubus’ means) while Francis is away arguing a client’s case, and then Francis is taken in, too – as a witch-lover. Fortunately, before Francis is taken away he’s been seeking his father to help save Madeline. The Bishop flatly refuses – she’s a witch, after all – but things change when it’s also his son. The Bishop heads to the royals who have already been a wee bit concerned with how these “trials” are being conducted (100 per cent guilty verdicts), and they agree to send a “proper” magistrate down to preside over a genuine trial this time – where Francis, being the lawyer he is, will represent himself.

That’s the first half. The second half is intense courtroom drama. While there’s no torture shown (uh, thankfully!), the techniques used on the prisoners are readily described, and in such a way that I was squirming in my seat. The courtroom banter and interrogation is rapid-fire (think Gilmore Girls for speed of interchange) and intense as the prosecution and defence attempt to damn one another (in more ways than one). The emotional climax comes in the last few moments, with its consequences echoing as the lights come on.

I loved it.

The play reminded me a little of Game of Thrones. Let me explain. You don’t know who’s going to die, but you know you’re guaranteed to lose some characters you’ve grown to like. And, throughout the play I was questioning who was ‘good’ and ‘bad’, and exactly what that means – like in GoT, very few people are wholly one or the other. The Burning draws out its characters’ blurred moral boundaries and their internal conflicts beautifully. Contradictions are exposed, and serious sacrifices as everyone tries to protect what they believe in, and their actions.

Earlier I said The Burning is pretty local. How local? Well.

Duncan Ley is the playwright. He’s from Canberra. The Burning premiered in Canberra back in 2001. Ley starred in it then as the protagonist, Francis. This iteration’s director played Frederick back in 2001. And last year, then Canberra Grammar student Parker appeared in the school’s production of it as Dr Vasolt (and won a Canberra Area Theatre Award for his performance).

This Everyman Production has made use of actors, producers and directors with whom they seem to have each worked before, and it’s obvious. There’s a lot of physically and psychologically intimate violence which requires real trust between the actors. The play doesn’t have to be presented with an ensemble cast, but it’s the better for having done so; there’s a great deal of time was spent exploring each character in the short two hours (though Ley and Parker really do steal the show), which in turn ensures the climax is truly devastating.

This is great value for money, and a great way to spend two hours. Get to it, Canberra.

Date: Thursday, 31 July 2014 (it’s on until 10 August).

Cost: $49

Value for money: High

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile

Want more? Do yourself a favour and buy a ticket.




2 Responses to “The Burning, The Q”


  1. Coming up in Canberra #5 + a giveaway! | In The Taratory - September 15, 2014

    […] The Burning at The Q was phenomenal theatre; local playwright Duncan Ley wrote and starred in the production. I’ll be looking out for more productions by Everyman Productions in the future. […]

  2. High Fidelity, ANU Arts Centre* | In The Taratory - February 8, 2015

    […] with his love-life, his two employees Dick (Will Huang, who starred in the excellent production of The Burning last year) and Barry (Max Gambale) – guys who he hired on a part-time basis but have been […]

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