‘When I was a girl, I had this strong feeling that I didn’t belong anywhere.’ These words were written by Tim Winton in his award-winning novel Cloudstreet. It’s also the opening line of Doghole, Underground Theatre Company’s first production for the 2024 season.

Doghole originally premiered as the headliner for Vena Cava Productions’ 2023 Freshblood Festival showcasing short, original plays, and now it returns as a full-length, two-act play with many of the key cast and creatives in their original roles. Written by Grace Wilson, winner of the Queensland Theatre Young Playwrights’ Award in 2022, Doghole dives into the mind of 16-year-old Cam Evans aka Dog who is struggling to write their first novel and figure out who they are as both an artist and a queer young person living in a suffocatingly small Queensland town.

Director el waddingham of theatrePUNK co. has created a fun and fantastical production. I particularly loved the way theatrical conventions were flouted: instead of having actors and crew in a neutral body as they changed the set pieces in between scenes, cast and crew moved with unique fabulousness on and off the stage, a performance of sorts in itself. The book character-themed disco scene involved several crew members joining the cast on stage in the dance sequences, including the Director, complete in black backstage garb. It was refreshing to see the rules abandoned in favour of fun and play.

Casting was well done across the board. Zee Bartley was commanding as protagonist Cam; their role included constantly breaking the fourth wall and narrating their creative writing process to the audience, often performed alongside the antics of the comedic side characters. Zee’s vocal projection and articulation expertly fit the space; the auditorium at the Queensland Multicultural Centre is known for its acoustic challenges. Ava Ryan was endearing as the bookish dream girl Kat, she sensitively portrayed her character’s ambivalence about being Cam’s literary muse, and their first kiss was well-earned and had the audience cheering. Jiordie Lobwein shined as Mum, showing maternal warmth in a very realistic way, particularly during her impromptu heart-to-heart scene in the bedroom with a devastated, post-disco Cam. Her advice to ‘just write for you,’ was profound.

The supporting cast brought the comedy in a range of off-the-wall characters. Lobwein joined Estella Hall and Mia Chisholm as an Ensemble trio who were particularly good as the uptight triplets the Lindsays in a performance reminiscent of the trio of mean girls from Matthew Whittet’s play and subsequent film Girl Asleep. Chisholm had a strong stage presence and threatened to steal almost every scene she was in. Her zany and assured comedy skills were reminiscent of Amber McMahon from the abovementioned work.

Bridie Middleton and Tom Anderson were suitably outlandish as Tim Winton and Patrick White respectively. The pair played famous Australian writers who appeared as heightened versions of themselves in fantasy sequences, reflecting Cam’s struggle to make sense of their creative self. While Winton appeared as a self-righteous mentor, White was portrayed as an insane theatrical villain. Anderson relished this role; his mispronunciation of Doghole was particularly funny and he was an overall audience favourite.

Doghole featured a refreshingly original soundtrack, with songs written, recorded and produced by Composer and Sound Designer Hannah Page, and performed by Page and Creative Associate Aimee Tacon, alongside members of the cast.

Doghole is a deeply personal work that delves into the creative process and has a strong message about staying true to yourself. While we may have heard it said before, this is a message we probably need to hear again. With cute Doghole merchandise available for sale in the foyer, the 2024 season, under the Artistic Direction of Kiera Lee, is off to a great start.

Although the Doghole season has now ended, callouts are underway for cast, creatives, and contributors for the next productions via UTC’s Instagram page; see their pinned posts for details. With no prior experience necessary to apply, Underground Theatre Company provides a great chance for young people to get involved in all aspects of making theatre.

Doghole performed until 28th April at the Queensland Multicultural Centre. For more information visit Instagram @undergroundbrisbane or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/UndergroundBrisbane

On-stage photo credit: Nathaniel Knight

Instagram: @nathaniel.m.knight