QPAC, Cremorne Theatre
June 5 – 7
As invigorating as innovative shows can be, one of theatre’s primary purposes has to be keeping accounts alive, for sharing the stories of others is what creates heritage. And when it comes to fascinating legacies, Brisbane certainly has its share, including the story of Cribb Island, (affectionately known as Cribbie) the isolated little suburb on the edge of the sea that disappeared when, in the 1980s, the community was forcibly removed to make way for the Brisbane International Airport (making it the only suburb in Australia to have vanished completely).
And so the stage is set, for the nostalgic tribute that is “Cribbie”. Using the real life memories of its former residents, “Cribbie” brings the suburb back to life in a piece of verbatim theatre. And the show feels genuine and human in every detail as it chronicles life in the suburb from the 1920s glory days when it was an idyllic holiday destination ‘like what Surfer’s Paradise is now’, through the depression when it became a refuge for the unemployed and the war years to its ultimate demise. Each tale is entertainingly told as anecdote, interwoven with performances of songs from the 1920s to the 1970s. Indeed, there is a sentimental appeal to the overall aesthetic, creating an effect akin to a David Malouf tale of reminiscence brought to life. The simple, functional staging is cosily lit in sepia tones and the backdrop features historical images and documents from the time, adding to its authentic appeal.
There is never any doubt that is a story very much grounded in the reality of this part of our city’s identity. As such, it is a story well worth being told. And its talented ensemble cast members all do a commendable job in a range or roles, from rascally children stealing mangos to proud Cribbie residents commuting to the city for find work alongside snobby Sandgaters and footy mates pumped for battle against traditional Pinkenba rivals. The standout among the talented troupe, however, is Sandro Colarelli who adopts numerous different, often comic, personas throughout the performance and never fails to deliver a distinct and convincing characterisation, most notably as Barry Gibb in a musical tribute to the Bee Gees who grew up in Cribbie before moving to Redcliffe. Louise Brehmer,too, presents audiences with some hysterical impersonations of the suburb’s most colourful characters, including, most notably, a policeman who never arrests anyone.
As a living thing, heritage resides in the lived experience of individuals and thanks to the honesty and humour of the residents of this proud, independent community of battlers, Cribbie can now live on in this tender tale, not only as a Brisbane story but as a universal one. It is a story that allows audiences to reveal in their own reminiscences and ability to revisit their heritage. And although there are tears as tales are told of the ramshackle hamlet’s last days, ultimately, “Cribbie” is a celebration and affirmation of community and hope, with appeal to anyone who has ever felt a sense of connection, yearned to return to the past or wanted to revisit a cherished time and place.