Road Movie may be about HIV and AIDS but it’s not a grim tale. Robin Usher meets the actor/producer bringing it to Melbourne.
QUEENSLAND actor Dirk Hoult is only 30 but he vividly remembers his childhood terrors brought on by the Grim Reaper campaign and other dour ads warning people against the dangers of AIDS.
”They terrified me,” he says during a break from rehearsing a classic one-man play from the early AIDS era, Road Movie, that will have its Australian premiere in the Midsumma Festival.
”It is a terrific play and its ideas about the fear of HIV are still relevant,” he says. ”It can raise awareness among young gays even if it is now a liveable disease like so many others.”
He stresses that the play is also of wider interest because of its literary merits. ”It’s a bloody good story that really rockets along.”
Road Movie by American Godfrey Hamilton made its debut at the Edinburgh Festival in 1995 where it won the fringe first award and the performer, Mark Pinkosh, won the inaugural stage award.
Hoult met the pair, who have been together for 30 years, in England in 2010 where they presented the play at Manchester’s Queer Up North Festival. He then joined a British tour of the production as the lighting and sound operator.
”I was very lucky to be able to get to know them so well. Godfrey was inspiring and he has allowed me to present his show in Melbourne,” he says.
The play tells the story of a hard-living New Yorker, Joel, who is travelling across the US to be reunited with his lover, Scott. On his odyssey he meets mothers remembering dead children, visits the Vietnam Memorial and recalls lovers and friends lost to AIDS.
”It’s not a dark play,” Hoult says. ”There are moments of beauty and side-splitting laughter.”
He plays three women and two men and deals with dialogue between characters by slight changes in his stance. In the last scene, on a Californian houseboat, Joel meets ”a hippie woman with piercings”, each representing people who have died from breast and ovarian cancers or AIDS.
”The themes of love and loss are always relevant,” Hoult says. Joel is an alcoholic at the beginning, but Scott reminds him that ”staying alive is the more interesting choice”.
He says the play represents a contemporary gay voice that people can respond to. ”[The movie] Brokeback Mountain was inspiring for the queer race, but it still ended badly.”
Hoult moved to Melbourne from Brisbane last year and taking on Road Movie is part of his search for a more rewarding career.
”This is a big challenge for me because I am taking it to the Adelaide Fringe in March,” he says. ”I have produced bits and pieces … but this is the biggest project by far.”
Acting is a hand-to-mouth profession for most young practitioners, and it was no different for Hoult, who graduated from the University of Southern Queensland in 2001.
But his break came with a role in The Kursk, a play about the doomed Russian submarine in which 118 sailors died.
The show toured nationally in 2009, including playing at the Clocktower Theatre in Moonee Ponds. ”Despite that, I still think of Road Movie as my Melbourne debut.
”As a result of the tour I was financially able to take on something big and that was when I decided to go to the UK.”
One of his last northern projects in Brisbane was the Queensland Music Festival production, Behind the Cane, about the shameful blackbirding industry in the 19th century when Pacific islanders were abducted to work in the northern canefields. ”It was a great success with a combined audience of about 7000 people over three days,” he says.
”It was a great way to finish up before heading south to see what opportunities Melbourne can provide.”
Road Movie is at the Gasworks Theatre, Albert Park, from tomorrow until Saturday. Book at gasworks.org.au or phone 9699 3253.