Gregory J Wilken talks Toy Symphony at Qtopia, Sydney

by | Mar 13, 2024

By Sarah Skubala

Qtopia, Sydney’s inaugural performance season kicks off next month with Michael Gow’s Toy Symphony, presented by Ad Astra Theatre Company, the crown jewel of Brisbane’s professional indie theatre scene. Producer and actor Gregory J Wilken will be joining a cast of seven talented Queensland and NSW artists who are based, or are soon to be based in Sydney, and as per Ad Astra’s philosophy, he has worked hard to be engaging emerging and re-emerging artists.

“Each of the actors in this production are so talented and I’ve worked with almost all of them before,” says Gregory. “In Toy Symphony they get to play a number of different roles and showcase a range of their talent on stage to a Sydney audience.”

As Executive Producer at Ad Astra, Gregory is committed to providing opportunities for new, professional level talent. “Importantly, and this is the mandate that we fight for: any production that goes on, as much as possible, fifty percent of the people must be new to Ad Astra. In 2022, we had 74 creatives working on and off stage, and 38 of them had never worked at Ad Astra before. In 2023, it was a similar story. We work hard to make sure each production is an excellent standard which helps all creatives who work with Ad Astra to increase their profile. There’s a great saying: ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ That is what we are about at Ad Astra.”

Toy Symphony was written by Michael Gow after a ten-year hiatus while he was Artistic Director at Queensland Theatre. It premiered in 2007 at Belvoir Street Theatre and won Best New Australian Work at the 2008 Helpmann Awards and won four Sydney Theatre Awards including Best Mainstage Production. Toy Symphony was the first play Gregory produced back in 2022 for Ad Astra, and Bernadette Pryde was nominated for a Matilda Award for her role. Bernadette is back in this 2024 production, along with actor Sam Webb and Director Michelle Carey. Rounding out the cast are Wendi Lanham, Felix Jarvis, John Michael Narres, Chantal Elyse and Aidan O’Donnell.

Toy Symphony is a semi-autobiographical work and revolves around the character of Roland Henning, played by Gregory J Wilken, who is suffering from writer’s block. The play is a clever combination of real time storytelling with moments of flashback to 1960s Sydney, and contains elements of magical realism. It is uncomfortable, disconcerting and hilarious.

“It’s not necessarily a gay story, but it’s about a gay man trying to work out what he’s doing in the world,” says Gregory. “Roland has such an incredibly creative mind, and as so often happens, even today, creative people are seen as strange; it’s seen as a bad thing. Roland sees the beauty in everything. It’s not just a landscape, it’s an incredible landscape. But as a child he was repressed to the point where he was told: ‘stop having these visions!’ by people who didn’t want to understand them. And then there’s that one teacher that comes along who tries to help him get through it.”

Toy Symphony is the first production to be performed at the Loading Dock Theatre which is Qtopia Sydney’s mainstage theatre, and one of three brand new intimate theatrical spaces which have been repurposed from heritage listed buildings. The Loading Dock Theatre replaces the old Darlinghurst Police Station which has an important place in Sydney’s queer history. Many people, including the 78ers, a group of activists who marched in the first Mardi Gras of 1978, were incarcerated and brutally treated at the site. One of Qtopia, Sydney’s exhibitions, 1978 – Hour By Hour, chronicles the pivotal year in Sydney’s LGBTQIA+ history.

“To be able to do the very first production in this beautiful building just astounds me,” says Gregory.

April 18-27


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Photo credit: Christopher Sharman

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