The Pain and the Itch | Red Stitch Actors TheatreLeft - Terry Yeboah (foreground) l-r Erin Dewar, Brett Cousins, Andea Swift. Cover - Daniel Frederikesen (foreground) l-r Terry Yeboah, Erin Dewar, Andrea Swift, Oregen Guilloux-Cooke. Photos - Jodie Hutchinson

It is without fail that Red Stitch has delivered again, with this superbly staged production of Bruce Norris’ intricately written The Pain and the Itch.

Moving, funny and cringe worthy at the best of times, this play is an elaborate exploration into the morals and values deemed important by members of our society. Too often, do we find ourselves down on our luck about life’s dealings, only never to consider the circumstances of those less fortunate than you. With his superb use of satire, Norris has created a dark comedy with an added brilliant twist designed to cut to the very soul of your conscious. 

The play takes place over one night, with most of the action a replay of the family’s Thanksgiving dinner, held by the seemingly successful young, yuppie couple, Kelly and Clay. Played superbly by ensemble newcomer Sarah Sutherland and the talented Daniel Frederiksen, they prove through their strong choices and clear grasp of the script, that looks aren’t always what they assert when it comes to their designer relationship and home. 

Despite proclaiming themselves as post modern, 21st century left wing voters, they hypocritically still do their utmost to protect themselves and their children from those contaminated with the illness of the ‘lower class.’ On the night of the dinner, the discovery of a half gnawed avocado forces them to confront their worst fears - the thought of an undoubtedly harmful intruder in their cocooned home. Add to this, the finding of the severe rash on their 5 year old daughter’s genitalia region and their ‘pleasant’ Thanksgiving dinner turns sour faster than the turkey is defrosted. Desperately failing to be seen and respected as a home-maker, father and most of all man by his high flying attorney, breadwinner wife, Clay becomes more and more distressed by the presence of his surrounding family members and as a result the tragic events of the evening unfold.

Brett Cousins does a bitingly sharp job as the crass, sexist brother Cash, who is continuously and without care at the mercy of Clay’s seemingly more-than-sibling rivalry. His girlfriend, beautifully portrayed by Erin Dewer is the big hearted, lower class Kalina, a Russian immigrant consistently insulted by Cash about her lack of command of the English language. Adding to Clay’s anguish, there is the consistent voice of his well meaning but condescending mother Carol, (played marvelously by guest actor Andrea Swifte) who never ceases to voice her own opinion about her naïve political views or the necessity of pornography in any sexual relationship. 

The chain of events of this Thanksgiving’s dinner is replayed by the family to the African accented, Mr Hadid, whose consistent presence in this apparently private domestic problem is only made shockingly clear as the story unfolds. Guest actor Terry Yeboah shines in this outside perspective role and provides a fittingly heartbreaking response of a character who has suffered considerably at the hands of the self-orientated. 

What is so engaging about this play is the identification that you have with these self obsessed monsters. Gorkem Acaroglu’s direction is flawless, allowing and channeling the wit and satire of the script to be fully realised. She skillfully handles the seemingly difficult problem of a child actor with ease, with 5 year old Kayla (played alternatively by convincing actors Oregen Guilloux-Cooke and Fantine Banulski) providing a vast contrast to the selfish conduct of the adults with her innocent presence.

The simple design concept by Anna Cordingley is yet another brilliant aspect about this Red Stitch production, as it too taps into the twist of the script and is manifested into the design. The disturbing pictures on the walls only reveal themselves half way through the piece, while the decision of clothing the actors only in their underwear until the near end of the play, is suddenly thrust onto you as the play unravels itself.

It is all of the above and more that really propels Red Stitch to be a leading theatre company in Melbourne. Each member of the ensemble had a brilliant and accurate interpretation of their character and always stayed one step in front of the audience by disentangling the script with their excellent choices.

This is a piece designed to reflect on the manifesto debate - how much have we really developed in the abolishment of the line between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat? It is clear from this script where Bruce Norris places his opinion and one can’t help feeling, after viewing this production, that unfortunately he is right.

Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
The Pain and the Itch
by Bruce Norris

Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda East (opp Astor)
Dates/Times: Fri May 2 – Sat May 31.  Wed – Sat 8pm, Sun 6.30pm
Previews: $18 - Wed 30 April and Thurs 1 May
Running Time: 2 hours 15 mins (inc interval)
Bookings: (discounted tix) or on 03 9533 8083 @ $30/20

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