Sometimes the important stories can slip by almost entirely under the radar. The Reckoning, which has just finished a brief one week season at the Butterfly Club, was one such.
The show was a response to a wave of little reported hate crimes against gay men in Sydney, which claimed around fifty lives in the late eighties and nineties. The full extent of the murder spree, committed by organised groups who deliberately hunted men at gay beats, has only come to light in the past couple of years because the family of one of the victims, Scott Johnson, hired private investigators to look beyond the official police finding of suicide.
As stories go it is hugely dark and challenging, a frightening undercurrent to recent Australian history. Putting it to stage was always going to be difficult, which is perhaps why The Reckoning was performed as a “work in progress”, a test run of how to approach the subject matter before an audience.
Staged as a one man cabaret, performed by Ben Noble, the show alternated songs, mostly sentimental ballads backed by piano though with a couple of bluesy numbers in there as well, with monologues from various writers in response to the source material. The monologues took the voice of multiple characters: victims, their family and friends, one of the killers, a potential witness. They varied in how much they were informed by reality. Some used snippets of information from actual cases, others were purely fictional. One took a flight of outré fantasy with a story that appeared to be about a gang of clowns hunting down homophobes in revenge.
As a theatrical experience it was, as might be expected for something in such a raw stage of development, a little hit and miss. Noble, while a multi-talented performer, had a hard task distinguishing all the characters in the monologues and it was at times difficult to know who the speakers were. Emotionally, it kept a similar pitch – what you might call the brink of tears – throughout. While understandable given the painful subject matter, greater emotional variety would have made it more effective. It was at its best in character pieces which balanced humour and pathos, such as Elise Hearst’s Wes, about a blokey working class man first discovering the beat, or I’m Not Picky by Emma Dockery and Simone Page Jones, in which a man looking for a date is unable to accept anyone not exactly like his lost lover.
The story is one that is begging to be told in some theatrical form or other. While a one man cabaret is not necessarily that form, you have to admire Fairly Lucid Productions’ experimental approach and commitment to grappling with hard subject matter. It is quite likely the show will appear again in a different incarnation – at a guess, more theatrical in format, more consistently informed by the factual base – and it is worth keeping an eye out for. While it didn’t quite come together this time, you can see certainly see this taking powerful shape as it develops.
Fairly Lucid Productions presents
by Rochelle Bright, Meg Courtney, Bjorn Deigner, Emma Dockery, Dan Giovannoni, Elise Hearst, Finegan Kruckemeyer, Ben Noble and Simone Page Jones
Director Alister Smith
Venue: The Butterfly Club | Carlson Place, Off Little Collins St, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Dates: 27 May – 1 June, 2014
Tickets: $28 – $25