Shane has fled to Kings Cross, running from Goulburn and his brother who gave him a serious beating after finding him partaking in homosexual intercourse with one of his best ‘friends’, where he attempts to piece together a new family from the strangers he manages to befriend. A little paranoid as a result of his flight from Goulburn and confronted by the everyday idiosyncrasies of his new home Shane is in way out of his depth. He scores a job at the local bottle-o where his inability to use the register and youthful charisma seed the bed from which relationships sprout with Will (Anthony Gee), a self assured young homosexual, and Peter (Anthony Phelan) a middle aged long term resident of the Cross who’s in a long term relationship with another gentleman.
What entails is a not only the humourous exploration of a young country boy’s first experiences and the challenges he is confronted by in the Cross, but an examination of Australian gay culture and broader contemporary Australian social issues such as the drug/prostitution scene and aged care. There’s a certain delicate beauty in the simply honesty of Tommy Murphy’s writing; he manages to light heartedly transverse so many themes without brutally ramming them down your throat like so many other writers. David Berthold (director) calls this a theatre of optimism, but I didn’t find the play optimistic or idealistic so much as realistic. The characters are beautifully drawn and the actors realise them without turning them into caricatures, a pitfall so easily succumbed to when portraying gays.
My one major qualm with Strangers in Between is that it ends so abruptly. I won’t spoil the story for you, but it just felt so unresolved. Perhaps Murphy has done this for dramatic effect, focusing on the ‘in between’ rather than the past and future of Shane, but I got a great sense of where Shane was coming from without ever knowing how things turned out.
The single set, which could be any apartment in Kings Cross, is utilised to the fullest. The performers make use of their space and the available props to take the audience from the bottle-o, to the pub, to Shane’s and Peter’s apartments. Everything on stage has a purpose and is manipulated creatively and with wonderful humour to tell Shane’s story.
Another high point was the dynamic between the actors; they complemented one another perfectly. Dunn and Phelan played their respective roles in the original 2005 production of the play, yet keep their characters amazingly fresh. Gee on the other hand has stepped fresh into the role of Will and the minor role of Ben (Shane’s brother) and does a wonderful job gelling with the established cast and production team.
I took along a friend who works in IT and lives within the general vicinity of Parramatta... he seemed to enjoy the show; laughed at all the jokes and after the abrupt ending questioned ‘is it over?’, but he didn’t seem to be able to relate to the story itself. I asked his thoughts after the show and he replied that it wasn’t really about anything. I think he actually enjoyed it, even if he found the subject a little confronting, but was uncomfortable articulating his thoughts to another heterosexual man... we live in a funny society.
Strangers in Between is a beautifully penned script that is sumptuously realised by the Griffin team. If you enjoy a good laugh, have an open mind and relish live theatre then you can’t go wrong here.
Strangers in Between
by Tommy Murphy
Venue: Riverside Theatres, Cnr Market and Church Streets, Parramatta
Dates: Tuesday 27 - Saturday 31 May
Times: Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat at 8.15pm; Thu 6.30pm and Sat matinee at 2.15pm
Tickets: Tues-Thu Eve & Sat Matinee Adults $42, Conc $37, Under 30 is $27, Under 16 $22
Fri & Sat Eve Adults $45, Conc $40, Under 30 is $30, Under 16 $25
RiversideSaver: Tues-Thu Eve & Sat Matinee Adults $35, Concessions $30, 30 and under $22, 16 and under $17
Fri & Sat Eve Adults $38, Conc $33, Under 30 is $25, Under 16 $20
Bookings: Riverside Box Office 02 8839 3399 or www.riversideparramatta.com.au
Strangers in Between will also play Glen St Theatre from May 13-24