HotHouse Theatre taps into community experience with Hotel Bonegilla anniversary production

HotHouse Theatre’s 20th anniversary production – Tes Lyssiotis’ Hotel Bonegilla – opens at the Butter Factory Theatre on Thursday, November 16.

Directed by Anni Gifford, 25 community actors have stepped up to perform the play focusing on life at the Bonegilla Migrant Reception Centre, which this November is marking its 70th anniversary.

“This originally started as a community reading … I think through the community cast interest it’s a performance now, it’s fantastic,” Gifford says.

“The turnaround of creating the performance has been quite short.

“Now it has become a celebration of what the original 1997 production. 

“The enthusiasm of the cast despite very varying degrees of experience on stage is wonderful.”

In 1997, Hotel Bonegilla raised the Butter Factory Theatre roof as Hothouse’s first production in the new venue. 

This version features four of the original actors from HotHouse’s 1997 production – Jean-maree Gutiez-Christesen, Dotti Simmons, Robyn Smithwick and Monica Wallace – as well young actors from HotHouse’s 2017-18 Studio Ensemble.

​All have fond and lasting memories of their 1997 theatrical experience, and are passionate about the relevance of the play’s themes to the challenges faced by many refugees and migrants in contemporary Australia.

The cast also includes members who came through Bonegilla, and some who have done both.

“In the first one I didn’t have as many lines, I wasn’t as prominent, I was quite comfortable. In this one I was quite shocked to see that I had so many lines,” says Gutiez-Christesen, who spent several months at the camp, in Block 19, with her Spanish parents.

“But I’m really enjoying it and this time around I think I’m more aware of the sentiment behind how my mum and dad would have felt.

“I’ve been to Bonegilla and to Block 19, and saw the room where we stayed, I think we were there for six months.”

Lyssiotis’ moving play payed tribute to the more than 300,000 migrants who began their new lives in Australia at Bonegilla.  

“I have been blown away it. There’s a real sense of equality across the whole cast regardless of whether they were in that original production or not,” Gifford says.

The Lowdown

What: Hotel Bonegilla

When: 7pm November 16, 7pm November 17, 3pm and 7pm November 18 at the Butter Factory Theatre, Gateway Village

Tickets: from $15