Review: Toy Symphony at Ad Astra

Review by Marita Bellas Miles


Any writer is all too familiar with the dreaded “writer's block.” Although sometimes a genuine temporary lack of creative inspiration, it is often reflective of something much deeper.

Written by former Queensland Theatre artistic director, Michael Gow, Toy Symphony is a dramatic play encompassing a wide range of themes. Led by Michelle Carey as director, the cast and crew of Toy Symphony have strived and succeeded in creating an astounding performance that leaves the audience feeling both pleasantly satisfied and craving more.


Situated in a quiet little side street, just off from the hustle of Fortitude Valley, sits one of Brisbane’s newest and favourite theatres. Ad Astra is quickly becoming a hub for theatre makers and an iconic space to soak up some locally produced theatre.


Entering the cosy space, eyes are immediately drawn to the white chalk writing peppering the walls of the audience and stage. Sometimes singular words, sometimes large phrases, it is clear these words carry a lot of meaning. It quickly became obvious that these words are all straight from the protagonist, Roland Henning’s, memories. This intriguing set up kept the audience gripped and had people pointing them out to their friends when they would recognise the words used. This was an exceptional use of the small space and helped blur the line between the reality and magical which Roland continually faced.


With the weight of the show predominantly on his shoulders, Gregory J Wilken carried it with elegance and strength. His multifaceted characterisation of the struggling playwright took us on a journey from childhood through the rest of his life. Wilken gave us an in depth insight to the hopes, dreams and fears of Roland, all the while pulling the audience through a roller-coaster of raw emotions . It was a truly commendable performance by Wilken which was strongly backed by the rest of the cast.


Every cast member brought buckets of humour and heart to their multiple roles. Caitlin Hill, Jonathan Weir, Bernadette Pryde and Samuel Ashfield Webb created spectacular, unique characters. The blend of larger than life caricature with moments of real humanity added a richness to the story telling.


Hill’s tender portrayal of Nina, Henning's therapist, helped create a world in which we feel extreme sympathy for his character. Contrast this honest performance with her hilarious interpretation of Miss Beverley and Hill cemented herself as an incredibly valuable member of the cast.


Lighting design and technical design was done by B’elanna Hill and Theo Bourgoin respectively. The overall tech for the show was relatively simplistic but extremely appropriate for the content and the space.


The joyous ending to the second act filled the audience with hope. Multiple times throughout the play, we are faced with the idea that things just might not work out; a brutal truth to face. The beauty of everything falling into place at the end and realising there is in fact a point to it all spreads a message of love.


Ad Astra is becoming more popular by the year and consistently winning acclaim for its celebration and execution of great theatre. Their latest production of Michael Gow’s Toy Symphony proves why.

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