Left – Cast of The Truth About Kookaburras. Cover – Cameron Sowden, Ryan Norris. Photos – Kate O'Sullivan
The Truth About Kookaburras opens with a tableau of naked footballers emerging from the showers. It's been a scene of some notoriety ever since the play debuted at Brisbane's Metro Arts in 2009. With Laboite Indie and Pentimento Productions' 2012 remounting of the work, it's grown even more confronting – a larger venue and expanded cast allowing audiences to take in every inch of twenty-two naked cast-members.
The Truth About Kookaburras, however, is so much more than that scene. It's an impressive introduction and an ideal (even necessary) primer for what harrowing and hilarious experiences are to follow – but proves decidedly mundane when contrasted with the work's less salacious accomplishments. With The Truth About Kookaburras, writer/director Sven Swenson has delivered a work that could rightly, without any fear of exaggeration, be referred to as a masterpiece.
Those words are not spoken lightly. Swenson's script is a masterpiece – that much is beyond doubt. Spanning three acts, thirty characters and nearly three hours, it encompasses gorgeously articulated character studies, sharp social commentary, brashly hilarious dialogue and a plot so meticulously crafted as to beggar belief. If a reviewer is permitted to be so simple; it's like Christopher Nolan adapting David Williamson. Only more. Better.
The premise is relatively simple: a Gold Coast AFL team host a bachelor's party for one of their players and, over the course of the night's proceedings, one of said players is killed. Swenson, however, explodes that premise to dazzling effect – transitioning between timelines, characters and narratives to gradually reveal a truly heartbreaking turn of events and a sympathetic but uncompromising interrogation of Australian masculinity and gender identity. It's funny, raw, masterful, devastating writing.
The delivery of said writing is less successful. To Swenson's credit; he has managed to bring his sprawling text to life largely without incident. The decision to incorporate choreographer Brian Lucas into the creative process was a masterstroke on the director's part – whether re-enacting complex football plays or simply shifting a mammoth cast from scene to scene, The Truth About Kookaburras never skips a beat. Yet, simply delivering such a gargantuan text and cast to stage has meant other components have suffered.
Actors, for example. The quality of performances is not consistent throughout the cast. Kieran Law, better known as a physical performer, delivers arguably his best work as an actor to date and Toby Martin presents an almost impossibly exquisite character arc stretching from bogan braggart to oppressed everyman with preternatural skill. Cameron Sowden's disgraced sporting icon transforms a media cliche into an aching, broken character study. Yet, for every triumph, there is missed opportunity.
In truth, the entire cast take some time to find their rhythm on opening night – but some performers never quite hit it. Stuart Alcock is disappointingly two-dimensional as the morally ambiguous Franger; Christos Mourtzakis doesn't quite nail Showbag's multiple facets. Donna Cameron's Sylvie Harbrow simply doesn't deliver. It's cliche and melodrama instead of strength and complexity. As one of only two female characters of any depth, Harbrow's figurative absence is felt most keenly.
The design of the work also underwhelms. A few curtains aside, The Truth About Kookaburras is defined through benches and tables. The costumes are strong and the lighting is serviceable but, from a solely visual perspective, matters look worryingly amateur; even props are kept to a minimum. Such shortcomings are understandable given Pentimento Productions' obviously limited budget – but it's hard not to dream of what might have been possible with better funding. In any regard; it all really does come back to Swenson's script.
The Truth About Kookaburras is soaked through with ambition. Inconceivable ambition. Ambition of such gonzo definition as to seem suspiciously similar to delusion. If they'd so much as mounted a season, Swenson's ensemble would have been deserving of respect. To have delivered a production wherein shortcomings are restricted to occasional acting blunders and design flaws – and triumph reigns supreme in all other departments – should mark them as champions.
Rest assured – when The Truth About Kookaburras reaches conclusion, you won't care who acted how, what or in what decor. You're just going to applaud.
Laboite Indie & Pentimento Productions present
The Truth About Kookaburras
by Sven Swenson
Venue: Roundhouse Theatre | Level 5, The Works, 6-8 Musk Avenue, Kelvin Grove
Dates: 6 - 23 June, 2012
Tickets: from $20