Queensland Theatre returns to full audience capacity at the Bille Brown Theatre with the opening of David Megaritty’s The Holidays, winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2018-19. Directed by Bridget Boyle, The Holidays is a tender and heart-wrenching family drama set during a quintessentially Australian beachside holiday, exploring the relationship between fathers and sons, and asking what we inherit from our parents and what we unwittingly pass on to our children.

Twelve-year- old Oliver Holiday is pulled out of school for a family road trip to Grandad’s beachside shack, his first visit in many years. But his grandfather is not there – it slowly becomes clear that he is in the nearby hospital, and that he will not be returning to the shack.

Bryan Probets and Matthew Ianna. Photograph © Morgan Roberts

Oliver is on the cusp of adolescence, trying to understand what is happening and to be heard by the adults in his life as they seek to shield him from the realities of his grandfather’s decline, which, it is implied, is related to dementia. Oliver speaks directly to the audience, sharing his thoughts and feelings beyond the fourth wall. Although the play centres on his experiences as a child, a son, and a grandson it is also a portrait of Oliver’s father – also a son, and a man facing his own mortality as he grieves for a father who is still alive, but not truly present. In turn, Oliver worries that the same thing will happen to his dad one day. With the deft touch of director Bridget Boyle, these ideas of inheritance and legacy are woven beautifully through the blocking and also explored through objects as the Holiday family tidy up the beachside shack. What should we pass on? What do we leave behind? Do we always have a choice?

The marketing material states that this is “a show for sons, fathers, grandfathers, and anyone who loves one”, but I think it runs even deeper and more broadly than that – this is a show about family, about inevitability and inheritance, about grace and empathy in the face of loss and a loved one who doesn’t know us anymore. It is a play about what we give to and take from our families, which trinkets physical and metaphorical we choose to value, and how we pass those on to others.

The seamless and innovative design of this production really take it to another level. Projections designed by Nathan Sibthorpe are perfectly integrated with every other aspect, bringing audiences so close to the beach that they can almost smell the salt air. The projections work in tandem with design by Sarah Winter to transport the audience from the bench seat of the family ute to the waiting room of the hospital, the local fish and chip shop, the beach, and the weatherboard shack at the seaside filled with sand and the paraphernalia of a life. Composition by Sean Foran and sound design by Matthew Erskine emphasise the emotion of certain scenes with the beep of medical machinery, the steady rise and fall of a ventilator, curlew cries and crashing waves, and the lighting design by Jason Glenwright employs interesting techniques such as a handheld torch, and is used effectively to set the scene and to jump across time.

Bryan Probets. Photograph © Morgan Roberts

Bryan Probets delivers a brilliant and deeply moving performance as Dad/Bob Holiday, walking the fine line between loving father and grieving son, agitated and distracted as he struggles to hold himself together and shoulder the burden of his grief alone. Louise Brehmer is warm, affable, and empathetic as Mum/Summer Holiday, seeking to capture memories in her own way and support her husband through his grief while maintaining a connection with her growing son. Matthew Ianna brings a buoyant, youthful energy and melodramatic humour to the role of Oliver Holiday, and the comedic timing between the three actors as they deliver the production’s many groan-worthy puns and “dad jokes” is excellent.

The Holidays is filled with vivid imagery in both its scripting and design. Heavy with symbolism and metaphor, from the stunning projections to the wit and foreshadowing of the script, it presents a patchwork of the small moments that make up a life. A number of motifs recur throughout the work – the idea of sand and tides as time, the fallible nature of memory, baby steps, music passed down from father to son – and the play addresses memory as a personal spectrum, from Oliver’s fragmented childhood memories to the more insidious loss of memory and self that his grandfather is experiencing.

Tender and entirely transportive, The Holidays is an incredibly moving and visually delightful work about family, empathy, and memory, packed with clever wordplay and beautifully balanced by moments of silliness and sweetness.

The Holidays plays at the Bille Brown Theatre, Brisbane until 12 December

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