IN APRIL last year, Toowoomba teenager Kristjan Terauds lay in the intensive care unit at Toowoomba Base Hospital for five days, twitching from a succession of seizures.
Kristjan, 18, had spent a weekend at a Gold Coast music festival, where he’d indulged in large amounts of alcohol and several tabs of ecstasy.
On the morning of Monday, April 6, he breathed his last breath.
It’s certainly not a feel good story, but the events described above form the basis for the latest production from Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre, April’s Fool.
Written by wunderkind playwright David Burton and directed by the Empire Theatre's Artistic Director Lewis Jones, April’s Fool is based on a journal kept by Kristjan’s father David during his son’s dying days.
“It sounds clichéd, but I just couldn’t put it down,” said Mr Jones. “I read it in one sitting in about an hour.”
Jones’ reaction is typical of the public response to Kristjan’s death, which was widely reported in Queensland and beyond, and has assumed almost parabolic status locally.
“Why has it resonated so much? I think it’s because there was no sense of other,” said Jones.
“Kristjan was a good kid, from a good, loving home. People can’t distance themselves from him. They can’t say, ‘Oh, he was a drug addict from a broken home, that was always going to happen’.”
David Burton concurs.
“He wasn’t off the rails – in many ways, he was very much on the rails – so people can really connect to his story.”
That connection is something Burton and Jones are counting on to help get the play’s point across.
“I wouldn’t say the play has a message as such, but the point of it is to say: ‘These issues are important and they don’t get talked about enough’,” said Mr Burton.
“For me it’s a case of: I want to tell you a story. I want you to hear it, and I don’t want you to agree or disagree. I just want you to hear it," added Jones.
“It’s been painful for them but Kristjan’s family have been heavily involved in April’s Fool and as his mother Helena says: ‘If I can stop another mother going through what I’ve been through, then it’s been worthwhile’.”
It all sounds very heavy but it would be a mistake to assume that April’s Fool is weighed down by a mantle of sorrow.
The press notes for the production promise a play “laced with humour” and speaking with Burton and Jones, it’s clear theatergoers won’t need to BYO razor blades.
“It’s not ‘slip on a banana peel’ kind of humour, but it’s quite funny in parts,” said Burton. “There’s a lot of daggy, family humour in there. It’s very Australian in that way.
“It’s not just a play about drugs, about someone dying from a drug overdose – it’s a play about families and the way they interact and contemporary society.”
And it’s also ultimately optimistic.
“It’s optimistic in that it says: ‘Let’s do something about this’,” proffered Jones. “And it depicts friends and family supporting each other. It’s a very warm play in many ways.
“It’s also optimistic in that a number of Kristjan’s friends have made really significant life changes since his death.”
While April’s Fool is an Empire production, completely produced here in Toowoomba, Jones believes the story has much wider significance.
“It’s not really a Toowoomba story. It’s a universal story and we feel it will resonate nationally and even internationally. We see this production as something that can be staged anywhere and our hope is that it goes on to be staged interstate and overseas.”
To that end, the debut season of April’s Fool isn’t even playing in the Garden City.
“It’s not a tribute to Kristjan,” said Burton. “But it’s informed by his experience and the subject matter is relevant to everyone because Kristjan was very much from an ‘everyman’ – he was one of us.”