Pleasure Tested for the Tropics: The Story of New Moon Theatre Company
Paperback, 300 pages, $39.95, ISBN 9781922815149
Release Date October 2022
Ever wise, and always highly entertaining, Justin Macdonnell puts an important piece of Australian theatrical history into a beautifully researched social and political context. - Robyn Archer
In 2017 Professor Ruth Bereson approached her friend and colleague, Justin Macdonnell, producer and arts writer, with an idea. In the 1980s she had been General Manager of the pioneering New Moon Theatre Company based in North Queensland. An initiative of the Townsville City Council in the Bjelke-Petersen era, it was a feisty, controversial, multi-skilled, outfit, constantly on the move, led by some of Australian theatre’s most colourful characters; and featuring many young artists who went on to stellar careers: Gina Riley played Sally Bowles in ‘Cabaret’, Baz Luhrmann, straight out of NIDA, directed his first production, Deborah Kennedy starred in ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ and John Waters became synonymous ever after with John Lennon in ‘Imagine’ – to name just a few.
However, its story had never really been told. Anecdotes abounded – some verging on the scandalous – but it lacked a proper chronicle. Bereson suggested Macdonnell might undertake the task, drummed up funds to get it started and suggested some lines of inquiry.
Macdonnell took on the task researching the background of New Moon’s revolutionary co-funding by local governments from Cairns to Rockhampton with state and federal investment, its startling in-your-face productions and knock-about ways. All that was greatly aided by the superb archives of the Company lovingly maintained by the James Cook University’s Mabo Library Special Collections. Above all, he interviewed dozens of actors, directors, designers, backers, backstage workers and board members including North Queensland luminaries from arts, politics and the community.
The result is a colourful tale of adventure, enterprise, entertainment, frustration and finally defeat. It is as much a part of the region’s history as the theatre’s. Many of its important lessons both about the arts and the North are still not learnt. The book’s title ‘Pleasure Tested for the Tropics’, taken from New Moon’s suggestive slogan, perhaps sums up the tale best of all.
Justin Macdonnell is the perfect teller of this story having grown up drenched in this complex environment. He doesn’t pull punches and opens all the cupboard doors in search of the skeletons... - Wesley Enoch