Irish Stew

February 2nd, 1979 — March 3rd, 1979


La Boite Theatre, Brisbane


La Boite Theatre


Sean Mee


John Bradley


Tony Brown
Garry Cook
Gregory Silverman
Ron May
Brad Collett
Jeremy Head
Kathleen Mahoney
Chip De Deurwaerder

Set Designer

Normunds Buivids

Sound Designer

Leigh Wayper
Stanley Bootman

IRISH STEW by John Bradley

In Rick Billinghurst’s final year as artistic director (1979), his ‘new writing’ production Irish Stew by Brisbane writer John Bradley directed by Sean Mee, was an outstanding critical and box office success.

Theatre critic David Rowbotham wrote: “This play is one of the most stunning and stimulating surprises I have encountered in theatre in this city – or anywhere in Australia. His play is the work of a professional. It is excellently written, with a combination of sharp wit and psychology, about emotions and confusions triggering terrorism... With I Irish Stew La Boite has hit a jackpot".[i] It received uniformly excellent reviews in The National Times, The Australian and Sunday Sun, and, although he had some reservations about the play, Jeremy Ridgman’s review in Theatre Australia was positive overall.[ii]

Writer: Christine Comans

[i] The Courier-Mail, Feb. 15, 1979.

[ii] Cotes in The National Times Feb. 24, 1979, Robertson in The Australian Feb. 8, 1979, Bentley in Sunday Sun Feb. 4, 1979, Ridgman in Theatre Australia April 1979, p.30.

Tell us your story

We'd come back to Brisbane after living in Canada for five years. It was 1972. Brisbane was a seething place of discontent. Vietnam, street protests, a secret police network, no freedom of speech, indigenous people still controlled under the mental health act. I'd been born in Brisbane into a highly conservative, dare I say, xenophobic Catholic family. The five years in Canada had changed my view of the world. Despite going to UQ at night, running an English Department, being Union rep. at the high school I taught at, the desire to write moved from the haphazard poetry and short stories I played around with to writing for theatre. I wrote a play "Saturday Mourners" which got me taken to Canberra for a workshop reading. I came back and got a call up to La Boite through Rick Billinghurst to be involved in the co-authorship of "Happy Birthday East Timor" and then my play "Let Me Not Thy Vigils Keep" was chosen for The Queensland Playwrights Conference. The latter had a workshop reading by QTC under the direction of Murray Foy. There was a brutal examination of the play after the reading. Daivd Clendenning asked me where I lived and when I told him the suburbs, he told me to go home and write about that. I did, and that's where Irish Stew came from, the suburbs. It got a guernsey and although there were misgivings in some quarters about the play, it got up. Sean Mee was a person who understood exactly how I wanted the play to work. I always want to write on the edge, between comedy and seriousness. The watcher can fall either way. The contents of the play are about the hopelessness of individuals once we lose basic rights. I saw how people were being crushed and oppressed in our state. People were terrified. Homosexuals, aborigines were being maltreated. Any form of dissent was being crushed. People's lives were being catalogued by Special Branch. You couldn't write about it. You'd be watched and harassed. I wanted to get people into the Theatre. Lead them on a merry chase and then hit them with the politics at the end. The humour is Australian, not Irish. Some people said it was an elaborate Irish joke. They laughed, but it was no joke. The original name for the play was "Once More into Genesis". It was, finally, about the triumph of human spirit which refuses to be crushed. Ian was that spirit floating in the Irish Sea. The one left to give evidence. The play was a smash hit. It was the talk of Brisbane. It received rave national reviews. It wiped out a huge part of La Boite's debt. It was published in "Three Political Plays". There were all sorts of promises to tour it and send it south. All vaporised! It was such a magical time to be involved in Brisbane Theatre and especially La Boite which I loved. How lucky I was! Regards John Bradley

John Bradley