What’s the difference between real life (when terrible things happen) and a bad soap opera? Well, I guess it’s the context – one is true and the other is fiction – but it’s also the way things are handled. In fact, it’s probably the first thing most writers are told in any creative workshop – don’t attempt anything ‘too big’ or you’ll fall into the realms of melodrama. But, every so often (and probably with a great deal of trepidation) a writer will have a crack at ‘the big things’ - and good on them really, why not? Truth is indeed stranger than fiction, or at least it’s as strange here in Jonathan Gavin’s new play, Tiger Country.
We open on a very bogan Christmas with the Unwins. There’s Eddie (Josef Ber), who’s just out of jail after doing eight months and his young preggie wife Kylie (Eve Morey), who’s ready to pop, but still keen to get home and watch her favourite soap ‘The Bold and The Beautiful.’ Eddie’s younger brother Howl (Matthew Moore) - who’s so simple that he insists on wearing his ugg boots even though it’s a forty degree scorcher - is completely under the thumb of Rachelle (Nicole Winkler) who’s a ball breaker. Rounding out the brood is the enigmatic and ever so creepy Chuckles (James Evans), who arrives late for lunch, but in plenty of time to cause trouble.
While it’s definitely a captivating tale of family, violence and betrayal - with a serial killer thrown in for good measure - what makes Tiger Country a curious choice as a new work is that it isn’t an entirely new story per se. There are obvious parallels to the Milat case and the three brothers themselves are eerily similar to ‘The Boys’, but what is different is the way the material is treated – it’s a comedy, (well at least it is in the first act, things take a rather nasty turn in act two.) Gavin’s dialogue is crisp and bitterly black, it’s slightly crass for some tastes, but it’s wonderfully irreverent and Australian.
There’s a feast of strong believable performances here. Josef Ber is truly excellent as the manipulative sex-crazed Eddie, who’s a dangerous animal and doesn’t mind his sex with a bit of violence. (Be warned, the violence, when it comes is explicit and raw, but it’s appropriately handled by director John Sheedy.) Nicole Winkler is gutsy and brilliant as the domineering Rachelle, it’s a stand out performance. Matthew Moore is hilarious and yet tender as Howl, who is the most compassionate of the brothers and the only one capable of anything remotely like human compassion. Eve Morey has the bogan accent down pat as Kylie and brings emotional depth to a character who could have easily fallen into the bimbo basket. James Evans has the hardest task with Chuckles, but he does a nice job, within the confines of the role.
The structure of the play is tighter than a drum, not a scene goes to waste and although we anticipate where it’s heading, there’s a vicarious attentiveness as the strange and macabre events unfold. Early on we find out that two backpackers are missing and we have a fair idea of who’s to blame, but our interest is sustained by the unpredictable responses of the characters who are incredibly watchable.
There’s spooky silhouetted lighting (Bernie Tan) and a layered soundscape (Robin McCarthy) that adds to the experience significantly. While the set design (Brad Clark) is simple, it’s clever in it’s functionality, which allows seamless transitions between households.
Perhaps the promising young playwright, Jonathan Gavin, has succeeded in creating a new genre here - the horror soap? Either way, it’s a cut above ‘The Bold and The Beautiful.’
Maelstrom Productions and Griffin Stablemates present the World premiere of
By Jonathan Gavin
Venue: SBW Stables Theatre | 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross NSW 2011
Dates: 29 November – 22 December 2007
Times: Monday Pay-What-You-Can at 6:30pm. Tuesday to Saturday at 8pm. Saturday Matinee at 2pm
Prices: Full $29. Snr $25. Preview/Conc. $22. Under 30 $25 (booking fees may apply)
Monday Pay-What-You-Can performances are min $10, max 2 tickets.
Bookings: 1300 306 776 or online at www.griffintheatre.com.au