At first the thought of theatre amid the clamour of bistro meals, pints of lager and loud pub chatter seems like a clash of cultures, but for the Anvil Creek Theatre company it's a match made in heaven.
The three-man show,The Exchange, was written by Phillip Aughey, a Tamworth man born and bred in the bush with a "fascination for absurdist theatre", an interest in the outback and a deep understanding of the importance pubs play in rural communities. The play, set in a fictitious outback bar, is a popular hit in real pubs across NSW - and promises soon to be in the Queensland bush as well.
Raised on a rice farm at Warrawidgee, west of Griffith, Philip was bitten by the theatre bug at 17 while a student at Yanco Agricultural High School. While a speech impediment affected earlier attempts to shine on stage, his musical and acting abilities scored him a high school role in HMAS Pinafore - and while in character and on stage, the stutter departed.
At university in Bathurst, a growing interest in theatre prompted a switch from a business to a communications degree, leaving him time to explore directing. This, in turn, led to development of his script for The Exchange while working as a thoroughbred stud strapper.
The script draws on experience as a bush roustabout and strapper, focusing on country personalities and the influence of pubs as community hubs. The idea for The Exchange was developed from the early 1980's, evolving slowly to its final form in November 2001, and touring the state since then - bringing the story of a barman and two of his regulars to hundreds of enthusiastic real-life pub patrons.
While others in the three-man cast have changed through time, Phillip continues to play the role of Cyril, one of the locals in an outback pub.
Audiences vary, but Phillip says the preference is "to stage it in smaller communities."
It gives them something to do, adds to the community spirit and makes the publican a bob or two.
One notable performance was in Bigga, about four years ago where, from a population of about 45, somehow 55 managed to turn up.
Phillip said the best part for him was talking to "one of the blokes after the show."
"He said a lot of people in the town, which was deep in drought, were in deep depression. He thanked me for making it an enjoyable night."
Phillip said the knowledge that The Exchange had provided relief in a really tough time, and perhaps brought hope, was amazing.
While preparing for the northern foray, he is working on a new play, developing a screen play, writing a children's novel and working as a horse chiropractor.
The Exchange will be staged in pubs across Queensland next year.