In the 80s and 90s, when I got out more, writer Rod Gibson was a familiar face at Byron Shire bars, plays and art gallery openings. Many of the plays would be his own; at many of the bars he would be performing his own poems – animated, ironic, satirical and sometimes downright silly.
Our paths crossed a little: a friendly hello, a joke or two. A ciggie in one hand, a drink in the other, the demon of schizophrenia in his head, Rod mostly inspired affection and some amazement at the delicious turns his writing could take.
He was no pushover, however. He was a stout defender of local theatre and Rod would lucidly lacerate in the letters to the editor any review of mine with which he disagreed. I suppose our minds mostly met in the pages of The Echo, where as then-editor I published his poems and reviewed his work.
And I suppose his work reminded me most of Richard O’Brien’s, the man who electrified the stage with The Rocky Horror Show. Nostalgic tributes to the past mix with cutting satire and a sense of the absurd – sometimes terrifying, sometimes playful.
So when Rod shuffled off this mortal coil last year, I was sad to hear of the untimely death at age 60 of the ‘Poet Lorikeet of the North Coast’. Writing is a tough gig to make a freelance living from but Rod gave it his best shot and was rewarded episodically on the way and with a deserving obit by Geoff Helisma in the Sydney Morning Herald.
A lot of people who knew Rod well were also saddened. Among them local theatre director Michael Borenstein, who has staged Gibson’s work over the last 25 years, including the first production of the noted The Fine Art Of Kissing The Ground. It is only fitting that Michael is the man to bring together the tribute, Rod Gibson: A Retrospective, for the Drill Hall Theatre Company.
Michael has eschewed many of Rod’s longer, better-known plays and offered up a buffet of short plays, poems and stories. It works well. The Drill Hall actors – who on this occasion include Rod’s sister, Janet – are very strong and clear in their performances and attack each piece with enthusiasm and skill. Borenstein makes clever use of sound and video, including performances by Rod himself, and a stunning piece of acting by Julie Tweedie in The Beatification Of Mary McCullen.
The night is an exuberant expression of Rod’s unique insight into the vicissitudes and joys of life. Unlike some local theatre over the years, it is also of a refreshingly bearable length. Fans of Rod will renew their friendship with the man and his work. Those new to his work, and/or poultry lovers, cannot fail to be charmed by his ‘Ghost Chickens’.
Rod Gibson: A Retrospective runs Friday and Saturday at 7.30pm, and Sunday at 5pm at the Drill Hall Theatre, Mullumbimby. Tickets at The Bookshop, Mullum, or at the door.