La Boite’s first documentary theatre piece, Happy Birthday East Timor was co-scripted and co-directed by John O’Toole (appointed playwright-in-residence a year later), Richard Fotheringham, John Bradley and Lorna Bol.
It was politically ‘suspect’ enough for the Special Branch of the Queensland Police to mingle with the opening night crowd in the foyer. In a National Times article by Adrian McGregor, Artistic Director Rick Billinghurst said that he had “wanted to involve domestic writers in a socio-political theme. I thought Australians had their head in the sand about Timor while we railed about Idi Amin and Chile”( December 5-10, 1977).
The play’s dramatic content included an interpretation critical of Indonesia’s recent invasion of East Timor plus television footage shot by the group of Australian journalists who were later murdered by Indonesian troops. According to reviewer Don Batchelor “it was hardly theatre of entertainment … nor did Brisbane flock to see it … but it was a tribute to Billinghurst’s social conscience, courage and cool-handedness that the attempt was so significantly made”(Theatre Australia, November 1979). Theatre critic for The Australian, Colin Robertson panned it as “… so bogged down in political bias that it becomes meaningless. The little round theatre turns so many degrees left it almost goes into orbit”(November 22, 1977). Yet it was this kind of risk-taking that gave La Boite a particular kind of ‘edgy’ attractiveness for artists and audiences.
Writer: Christine Comans