Tucked away down a quiet side street, between the Legislative Assembly and The Canberra Theatre Centre, is another smaller and rather quaint theatre – who’s flashing lights and red carpet reminiscent of an old classical cinema, invite you in to a humble bar, where you purchase your tickets and a cup of tea if it happens to take your fancy. This is the Courtyard Theatre. A relatively new and secret addition to the Canberra Theatre. It features small shows produced by young and local talent, and is also a venue used for performers to road-test new material on small audiences in the know.

I was there on Saturday night. A small, eclectic crowd were standing around The Courtyard studio bar as I entered, chatting and drinking tea and coffee. The atmosphere was cozy and intimate, and as I read the poster for the The Underground Ark; the play I was about to see, I felt there could be no better way to escape the cold rainy night outside the theatre.

The doors opened, our tickets were collected, and we took our seats in the small seating area. The beauty of watching a play in such a compact theatre is the closeness to the actors and stage, which allows for a much more involving experience.

I found myself captivated by The Underground Ark the very moment it began – with a soundtrack of chaos and panic. As the lights switched on to reveal two actors playing chess; one quite young and dare I say rather handsome, and the other eloquently spoken with a hint of a British accent; I was immediately drawn in to the dramatic and challenging story of The Underground Ark.

The Underground Ark written by Bruce Hoogendoorn, is a play set in dystopian Australia, which has been rendered un-inhabitable by intense global warming, killing all but a carefully selected bunch of intellectuals. The intellectuals are forced to live underground where the sun’s dangerous heat cannot harm them.

Hand-chosen by the Prime Minister himself, it is up to these people to save the human race. They are required to pair up with a partner chosen for them by ‘The Committee’ to impregnate. This will ensure the child they produce has the best possible genes and intelligence quota for the future human race.

We follow the struggle of Medical Professional and lecturer, placed with the responsibility of delivering the babies of the pregnant women in the underground colony. I wont spoil the ending, but I will admit I was captivated from start to finish. I found myself laughing, contemplating and worrying for the characters so expertly portrayed by the small company of players.

Characters such as the heavily pregnant psychologist Lyn, or the brawny but not very brainy Stan gave the play balance, offering comic relief at some points and disturbing twists in others. The two young characters of John, the student who can’t seem to mind his business, and Jamie, the naïve young menial worker caught in a world of manipulation, gave the play some serious eye candy and delivered a convincing performance.

After the play concluded, most of the audience stuck around to debrief in the intimate Courtyard studio bar, and meet the actors. It was a nice intimate way to end the theatrical evening. Outside the light bulbs were still flashing, illuminating the dark empty side street and I wondered how many people would know there is a secret little venue tucked away, offering cultural gems to those who seek it. I felt privileged to have discovered Canberra’s best kept secret, and I look forward to future evenings spent soaking up secret shows in the quaint Courtyard Theatre at the Canberra Theatre Centre.

Photography by Helen Musa.

To buy tickets to the The Underground Ark
Click Here or phone 6275 2700. The play will be performed until Saturday 23rd June. There are performances for tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm and 8pm.