Category: Joey the Mechanical Boy

Joey the Mechanical Boy by Margi Brown Ash and Leah Mercer: nominated Best Play, West Australian Theatre Awards 2014


I have just returned from Perth where nest ensemble’s latest show, “Joey the Mechanical Boy”, was premiered to outstanding critical response. Leah and I began writing Joey in 2010, moving back and forth across the continent to do workshops/creative developments in both Perth and Brisbane. We did a showing of our first creative development in 2010 before we began to work on HOME (HOME has a season at Queensland Theatre Company in July 2015). It was time to launch Joey in November, 2014.

There were many reasons why we wanted to write Joey. Being a post modern therapist I have done extensive research into the damage that ‘labelling’ and categorising does and this is a story where Bruno Bettelheim, a famous psychologist, labelled mothers as ‘refrigerator mothers’ and the sole cause of autism. Leah had found an article called “Joey the Mechanical Boy”, written by Bettelheim, and we knew we had the beginning of an interesting project. We were also keen to challenge gender roles so we wrote a piece where I would have the opportunity to perform as a woman and as a man, moving from the role of Mother, into the doctor Bruno then back again. This provided challenges and complications due to the very limited rehearsal time. I was not initially playing the role. We had a very able Perth actor who was to play Mother/Bruno. However two weeks before opening things changed, and I had to bump out “He Dreamed a Train” at the Brisbane Powerhouse, fly to Perth and rehearse for two weeks for a one week season at The Blue Room. This was more than challenging but somehow we managed to offer to the Perth audiences a piece of theatre that was received well.

David Zampatti, from the West Australian, writes:

Playing the autistic is a treacherous venture… Philip Miolin – almost unrecognisable – delivers a career performance as Joey. Mercer prudently resists the temptation to bring clarity to moments where it escapes Joey. This makes his savant insights (“Growing up is how much you change on the outside”) blindingly lucid, and Miolin’s performance even more accurate and impressive.

…And, best of all, Ash’s longstanding collaboration with Mercer brings her back to Perth. She’s powerful and utterly convincing as both Joey’s mother and Bettelheim; her transitions flawless, her voices precise, her physical and emotional control exquisite. She’s quite something.


‘Joey: The Mechanical Boy’ is another triumph by the award-winning co-writers, Leah Mercer and Margi Brown Ash. In 2012, their play ‘Eve’ was the winner of the Blue Room Members’ Choice Award. Looking like Einstein on drugs, Margi has magnificent stage presence, filling every square inch of the stage as she brings to life the mad, obsessed scientist.

With clever direction from Leah Mercer, we found ourselves being drawn into the misguided logic of the admired quack. I have known Phil Miolin for more than a decade, but behind the special mask designed by Per Brahe, his display of nerves and quivering uncontrollably, he was unrecognisable. The unpredictability of the situations and the fast pace of the delivery – much of the hour was an impeccable monologue from Margi – kept the audience enthralled. There are plays that are simply disturbing but admirable, but this was something very special. Masterly performances, a tight script, and a wonderful production. By Gordon The Optom

Picture by Leigh Brennan


Philip Miolin was brilliant as Joey…This eloquent, brilliant performance is not for those who are uncomfortable with getting emotional (I cried for almost its entirety). Joey’s sadness is heartbreaking, and the journey he and his mother go on represents what many people in similar circumstances must endure. Margi Brown Ash won my heart as the storyteller for the evening. Her ability to switch between sad and lost, and egotistical and arrogant was perfect. As Joey’s mother she was candid, almost guilty, whereas when she played the doctor she moved with an incredible gusto and sense of ownership.

‘Joey: The Mechanical Boy’ is a story of someone who got lost and found their own way to cope, and is a must see to conclude the Blue Room’s August-November season.

by Alice Newport

Joey the Mechanical Boy was nominated for multiple awards in 2014:
West Australian Theatre Awards (supported by Equity): Best Director, Best Actor, Best Designer, Best Lighting Designer, Best Production. Joey won Best Director (congratulations Leah Mercer) and Judges Special Mention.
The Blue Room Awards: nominated Best Production and Best Design.