The evocative opening voice-over that begins Reg Cribb’s multi-award winning play, The Return, alerted me to the fact that I was in for a treat, script-wise. I wasn’t disappointed. The Return is tight and edgy, with some of the best dialogue you’re ever likely to hear.
Cribb was inspired to write the play after he witnessed two thugs harassing an attractive woman on a Midland to Freo train, and what he has written is a richly layered, dramatic story with several themes. One of these themes is about the treaty of brotherhood and revenge, apparently inspired by the drowning death of Cribb’s own brother in 1999. The main theme of the play is that of the ever-present violent element in society and the way in which it makes people look at the relative security and/or vulnerability of their own lives. Of course, The Return also deals with the other side to this coin; how the socially disenfranchised feel eternally on the outer of mainstream society.
To explain the plot is to undo the joy of watching the play, so I won’t. If you’ve seen The Last Train to Freo, the film the play is based on, you will understand this. (And whether you’ve seen the film or not, seeing the play is a whole other experience.) The premise is simple enough: two thugs on a train harass a young woman. Her reaction to the harassment is integral to the plot, as are the reactions of the two other passengers. It’s a character piece through and through, and so the casting of a play like this is paramount to its success.
The cast is predominantly an inexperienced one, so staging a play as textured and tense as this one was always going to be a challenge for the director, Karen Francis. In saying that, the cast as a whole do an admirable job. The two stand-outs are Scott Hansen, who plays Steve, the particularly nasty thug who does most of the harassing, and Jason Arrow, playing Trev, the other thug. Arrow does a fine job in a difficult role. With more experience under his belt he will no doubt prove to be a very fine actor.
The rest of the cast, unfortunately, are not up to the same standard and there are sections of the play that fall down because of it. Katy Marks as Lisa, the young law student who is being harassed, is almost unwatchable in parts. She masters coy and annoyed far better than angry and afraid and needs much more confidence to pull off the scene where she hits out at the character of The Writer (Tom Hennessy). Tom Hennessy, who has little to do until the end of the play (where he then becomes integral to the plot), is unconvincing.
Hansen, who has very little stage experience (he has been a professional radio announcer and producer for most of his life), is a knock-out and carries the rest of the cast who (with the exception of Arrow), should be supporting him. It’s unfortunate, but Hansen has the clout and talent to carry it off on his own regardless. The character of Steve (Hansen) is a wonderfully developed role for an actor, and Hansen gives it a depth and an edge that truly hooked me in. There is nothing so frightening as a violent thug who is also smart, and it is this duality that Hansen nailed: Men are fucked, they’re hideous creatures. I should know, the last time I woke up, I was one. The role is a taxing one, requiring the actor to have a harnessed power that is only unleashed one or two times throughout the entire play, but otherwise brews menacingly beneath the surface, so the audience believes beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is capable of anything. Hansen, I believed you.
I hope that this production gets the audiences it deserves. Despite some weak performances, it’s still well worth seeing. The set works well and the sound was extremely effective. I do wish that Hansen has his own bow at the end; he certainly deserves one.
Multi-award winning plays set in Perth are few and The Return is definitely worth a look. The themes of class resentment, homophobia, poverty and violence make it a gripping experience, and part of the accomplishment of the script is that it makes no efforts to solve any of these problems, it simply provides a way of provoking an audience into thinking about these issues in the context of their own lives. As Steve (Hansen) says towards the end: You need me cos I make you know how fuckin’ lucky and how miserable your lives really are. And in so saying he sums up the basic premise of what is a truly thought-provoking play.
by Reg Cribb
KWINANA COMMUNITY ARTS CENTRE Sulphur Rd, Kwinana
Dates: June 20th, 21st, 27th & 28th 2008
Bookings: 9439 0290
Tickets: $20 Adult $18 Conc $15 Students (15+ MA)
More info: www.tazentertainment.com.au
The Return contains coarse language and adult content - mature audiences only