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March 2, 2021

Putting Theatre on Track with Railway Wonderland

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NORPA_RailwayWonderland_KatjaMolino-&-Phil-Blackman_photo-by-GrantMacIntyreBack in 2012 NORPA presented Railway Wonderland, an innovative original show that told the story of our now disused railway. Set at the Lismore Train station, the show cleverly moves between the present and the past, weaving the story of people and their community and the importance, both actually and metaphorically of the train.

It is a show that artistic director Julian Louis is passionate about, in fact he admits it is his opus, his finest work to date, and has huge relevance to the local community, which is why NORPA have provided a long season.

‘It’s a show that celebrates the whole region’, he says, ‘putting a show on for three weeks in a regional area is brave – but it expresses how relevant the show is and how much people have enjoyed it.’

Created in collaboration with writer Yanis Balodis, the cast and himself, Julian believes the secret to the show’s success is the intricately crafted plot.

‘There is a series of scenes that occur in post-world war 2 that describe an Italian woman’s arrival into Lismore – she has married an Italian man she has never met, she is a proxy bride, our research told us these amazing stories of Italian migration and people arriving here expecting to find a house and getting a shed and crop of bananas instead – post-world war 2 the men migrated from Europe to start farming, so these women would start these lives with a new husband in a new land – our lead character, Anna, started her life this way.’

Railway Wonderland starts with four characters in a waiting room to get the bus to Casino.

‘We had the idea of the station and the waiting room as a place of extreme boredom where your life can change,’ says Julian.

‘We also use the train platform and here these strangers have realisations because the bus is delayed by two hours – the platform which is no longer in use becomes a greater metaphor for life’s big moments, where Anna met her husband for the first time. When we meet her she is on the train platform to go home – she wants to go home to Italy – she is tracing her passage 40 years earlier via the train – the general gist is that there is an old woman there who wants to go back to Italy and these characters in the waiting room become the characters in her life.’

While the reprisal of the show is true to the original, there are some changes.

‘The original show had a choir and they were dressed in white as ghosts to heighten nostalgia of the station. Now they are in amazing Versace-inspired costumes of the 40s’, says Julian, ‘and they sing in three sections of the show – so they come and they go like a train – in the way a station will fill up with people and then quickly dissipate. They are really about the glamour and the nostalgia of rail travel back in that time and it contrasts very comically with the contemporary characters in the waiting room. People like Gary the karaoke champ of the Gollan Hotel, the teenage runaway escaping her mum’s pervie boyfriend, Leonard who knows the train schedule backwards and George who is going home to come out to his mother. These are the contemporary stories of why people have to leave the safety of their lives in the northern rivers, to face their truths and to change.

‘There is slapstick, moments of comic dance, this morning I was working on a routine where a girl gets her hair caught in a zipper after a night spent on the station in a sleeping bag. It oscillates between the comical mundanely of waiting with a bunch of strangers coupled with the epic space of the place, it lends itself to a huge amount of joy and sadness – and a lot of entertainment… and I so hope that people take up the opportunity to see us, it’s the best work that I have ever made, I want people to own it and to feel like it’s telling our stories.’

Catch one of the 16 shows of Railway Wonderland, presented by NORPA at Lismore’s iconic train station. With covered seating on the tracks, a show on the platform and drinks in the carpark, this is sure to be a night to remember. October 22 to November 7, 2015.
Tickets: www.norpa.org.au or 1300 066 772.

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