Wretch | La Mama Susie Dee and Angus Cerini. Photos - Ponch Hawkes

She’s on one chair; he’s on the other. There in the detention centre they sit, a mother and her son, trapped within the lives they have been dealt and have created, facing futures they did not want for themselves or each other. All that is left to do is to try to make sense of it all.

Wretch, written by Angus Cerini, was the co-winner of the Patrick White Playwright’s Award in 2007. The work itself denies its characters any chance of hiding from their past, their decisions or their wrongdoings. Designer Marg Horwell has placed the performers in a stark, white room and Richard Vabre’s harsh and unforgiving fluorescent lighting illuminates them and the audience. There is also little chance of escape. The son, played by Cerini, is in detention for brutal crimes and his release is uncertain. His mother, played by Wretch’s co-director Susie Dee, is suffering from cancer and visits him not knowing how much longer she will live.

Both mother and son have done it tough, and it shows. Dee does a fine job of portraying a rough and scheming woman, who finds that the looks and the body that once defined her are now failing and lacking in sexual appeal. Cerini gives a chillingly intense performance that reveals the physical and mental effects of drug abuse, violence and having too much time to think. Seated for the majority of the hour-long performance, they do so through facial expressions and posture. Cerini is particularly brilliant, exuding pain, hatred and nerves.

This work is unique in the way it explores and presents its themes of prostitution, violence and sexuality. It does so within the relationship between a mother and her son. It is then that it becomes difficult to separate the maternal from the sexual and wrong from right. The mother, having lost her breast to cancer, has lost what she identifies not only with her sexuality but also her maternal side and the once innocent bond she had with her son. Meanwhile her son struggles with the notion that his mother’s sexual promiscuity and her prostitution has been both the reason for her problems and the answer to her problems, that it is most likely how his own life began and how, as a child, it was sustained.

Wretch, in its themes and its dialogue, is crude and confronting to the end. The mother’s latest plan to save herself is most unsettling and its discussion verges on the edge of going too far. Never the less, this work fails to shock as much as one would expect. It leaves its audience little time to dwell on such things, in part due to the speed with which the dialogue is delivered and the attention that is required when trying to follow the characters' slang and their movements backwards and forwards in time.

In order to experience the full intensity of the production it is best to avoid sorting the story line into a chronological order (even attempting to do so is rather difficult). What then becomes apparent is that it doesn’t really matter how this mother and son got to where they are today. It doesn’t really matter who is to blame, or who is telling the truth. The one sure thing through all of this is that there is still, as there was at the beginning, a mother sitting by her son’s side.

La Mama presents
by Angus Cerini

Directed by Angus Cerini and Susie Dee

Venue: La Mama Theatre | 205 Faraday Street, Carlton
Dates: February 19 – March 8
Bookings: www.lamama.com.au

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