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Return to the Dirt gives us a peek behind the final curtain

Culture

Written based on playwright Steve Pirie’s personal experience working as a funeral director in Toowoomba, Return to the Dirt is a witty meditation on life and death in the 21st century.

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The winner of the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2020-2021, Return to the Dirt chronicles Pirie’s year tending to the dead.

Based on his experiences aged 25, Pirie said he had arrived at a crisis moment in his career and with no money, he moved from Brisbane to his home of Toowoomba where the only job he could get was as a funeral director.

He said he began writing the play once he had finished living it, and as such it is heavily grounded in his memories.

The play itself includes two versions of Steve, a version who is telling the story in hindsight with the lessons he’s gained, and the person who is living those experiences years earlier.

“It’s what I called the ‘dinner party question’, people wanted to know what happens – not existentially but logistically – when you die,” said Pirie.

“I was 24 when I worked with my first person who had died, by the time I was 26 I had worked with over 400.

“It’s no so much a play about death as it is a play about trying to live.

“It is also about being a young person trying to find your purpose, having to rebuild yourself after spending the first quarter of your life figuring out who you are,” he said.

Queensland Theatre Artistic Director Lee Lewis said she was overjoyed to be directing the world premiere season at the Bille Brown Theatre.

“It’s one of the best new Australian plays I have read in the last five years,” said Lewis.

“Steve’s clever and compassionate writing features characters that audiences will recognise from any community and opens us up to those tricky but important conversations we all try to avoid.

“Dying is something everyone has to do one day, no one gets to avoid it. Return to the Dirt not only helps demystify the process and the business of dying, it also makes us think about how we want to live. What really matters to you in the precious time you have?”

“The power of live theatre is that audiences can ponder these big things together, enjoying the small details of this glorious production and the incredible characters we’ll meet along the way.”

The show is the tenth Queensland Premier’s Drama Award (QPDA) winner to be staged by Queensland Theatre since its establishment in 2002.

“For almost two decades the QPDA has been telling our stories through contemporary Australian theatre,” said Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch.

“Queensland playwright Steve Pirie joins an impressive list of QPDA winners and their amazing stories including Michele Lee, Marcel Dorney and Daniel Evans.

“The Palaszczuk Government invests in Queensland Theatre to create new work and provide employment and creative development opportunities for our artists and arts workers.”

Return to the Dirt will run from 16 October to 6 November at Queensland Theatre’s Bille Brown Theatre. 

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