HelicopterLeft – Terry Yeboah, Daniela Farinacci and Charles Grounds. Photo – Fraser Marsden Photography

The MTC production of Helicopter, from playwriting/directing team Angela Betzien and Leticia Caceres, is a winner. A killer script plays out via an array of satisfyingly imaginative and surprising theatrical devices. Helicopter is a masterful, original and rich text performed by a terrific cast.

A privileged white family find themselves enmeshed with the African family next door as a result of a tragedy. Daniela Farinacci plays a mother hovering over her son Jack (Charles Grounds), unwilling to see that the real danger to him comes from within. Jack is adopting a dysfunctional isolated pose which threatens to engulf him – his parents have created a monster. Dad (Paul Denny) is unable to cope with what has happened and resorts to a chilling pragmatism. Their inability to respond in a natural, human way to their neighbours' grief embroils them all in hideous mess of misunderstanding.

The direction allows for the characters to have moments of soliloquy where you witness the deeper selves they're keeping from each other. Although the play tackles some hefty issues, any messages are subsumed to narrative. You dislike the white characters, yet care about what happens to them. The irony is grotesque, with audacious black humour bordering on satire, providing balance to the piece's political underpinnings. In fact, the evil humour in the text makes you gasp. Helicopter is a work of skilful, nasty, profound yet unpretentious writing. There are moments of suprising imagery used to great effect. Good use is made of space where action happens on different levels, offering symbolism, and utilisation of a simpler set than some we've seen.  

The play does have its patchy moments, some gaps where you wonder where you're meant to focus but these are few in an overall tightly controlled work. I wasn't convinced by the ending; it seemed somehow rushed and excessive. Also, the unconventional finish of proceedings on stage obstructed the cast's first bow. However, the dynamic structuring of the play plus the confidence of both the writing and performances hold the audience in a strong grip. The story almost seems implausible at times; you want it to not be 'true' but these are all too human, complex and convincing characters, well served by the actors.

First rate stuff from a team with a distinguished future in Australian theatre.

Melbourne Theatre Company presents
by Angela Betzien

Directed by Leticia Cáceres

Venue: The MTC Theatre, Lawler Studio
Dates: 2 August – 17 August 2012
Tickets: $40 – $25
Bookings: 03 8688 0800 | mtc.com.au

Read our interview with director Leticia Cáceres»

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