Brilliant Monkeys is. Brilliant, that is; not monkeys. While Pork Chops Productions partners are certainly not averse to sending themselves up, they’ve every reason to take themselves very seriously, since this play, in my estimation, is, quite simply and unequivocally, one of the very best of the last 10, even 20, years. A glib, superlative observation? Uh-uh. While countless other plays struggle to find their way, make their point (if there is one) and will tend to follow politically-correct fads and fashions for their own sake, BM has that rare, raw air of authenticity, thanks, in very large measure indeed, to its writer and, yes, star, Al Dukes. While, too, other plays are served undercooked, this one’s as spry, wry and ripe as they come. Australia, your drama is ready!
What helps, no doubt, in eking out genuine tension, is the play’s based on fact: a (late, if not especially lamented) Bulletin article, by Paul Daley, on the plight of returned servicemen.
Where Dukes gets the rest is unclear: family history, perhaps. However he’s come by it, it’s magical; proving nothing succeeds like success.
He plays Danny, the beleaguered, tortured, sensitive soul who is the brother of (Sgt.) Gerry, suffering one of the most common afflictions suffered by returned soldiers (traumatic brain injury).
Gerry isn’t the same and never will be. He has headaches. Lapses. Anger. And can’t turn left. He is, only a short time after relief from active duty, the forgotten, unknown soldier.
While Gerry’s been away, Danny has been trying to live with (and down) a terrible secret. He’s long been victim to the bottle and has descended to being one of the hapless homeless, honing his pitch to sell The Big Issue. The latter responsibility has redeemed him, albeit but slightly.
There is tenderness in the telling of both characters and both actors vie, audaciously and aggressively, for the prize for most richly realising their assigned role. Warwick Young is a powerhouse: he storms the role. Dukes, physically, vocally and emotionally, inhabits Danny to such effect one wonders if it’s Danny inhabiting him.
There is so much here! The bald, familiar reality of damaged family relationships. The injustice of schizoid, duplicitous standards we apply, without compunction, to fighting men and women: one moment heroes; the next, refuse. The ignominy and dignity of the downtrodden, who, no matter how wealthy a nation we become, are always among us. Wisecracks. Jokes. Comic vignettes of British proportions. Moving poetry. And sharply-delivered insights: ‘success is always experienced privately; failure is always in full, fucking public view’.
Every moment of this play is thrilling. Brilliantly conceived; written; designed (Hamish Peters); lit (Andrew Williams); directed (Jeremy Sims). Everything is just as one would want it: slick; seamless; elegant. Rarely, indeed, are plays as good on the page. Equally, performance is hardly ever as honed, nailed, classy or arsey. And, thank God, at last, a lighting designer and director who understand the drama of simplicity; of a cohesive look. If only all plays were half its measure.
BM sweats conviction and commitment and revives the true, amateur spirit: done for love; sheer, unbridled passion for the play. No try-hard tryouts for the STC talent scouts who might, or mightn’t, lurk in the shadows. No unspoken ‘show me the money’ agenda.
One thing’s for sure, Dr Cockup hasn’t knocked on BM’s door ;)
(But one arguably uncharitable note: the director, laughing loudly, in the corner, whether sincere, or otherwise, is never a good look: suggesting vanity and working equivalently to the flashing applause sign in a tv studio.)
Pork Chop Productions in association with Riverside Productions presents the return season of
by Al Dukes
Venue: The Old Fitzroy Theatre; Cnr Cathedral & Dowling Sts, Woolloomooloo.
Season: 19 Mar – 19 April 2008
Times: Tuesday – Saturday @ 8pm & Sunday @ 5pm
Opening: Tuesday 25th March (Invitation only)
Previews: 9 – 20th March @ 8pm/ 23rd March @ 5pm - $16 *No show Fri 21 March
Tickets: $20 Concession, $28 Adult, $34 Beer, Laksa & Show
Special: Cheap Tuesdays - $16 Adult, $24 Beer, Laksa & Show
Bookings: www.trstheatre.com.au or 1300 GET TIX (1300 438 849)