Photo – Luke Cadden
TBC Theatre takes on Irish writer Mark O’Rowe’s gritty play, Made in China, a story about three men caught up in violence, manipulation and one-upmanship, inhabiting a brutal, über-masculine and callous world where words and clothes can be weapons alongside fists and baseball bats, and where there is little chance to flee a life of thuggery.
Three young men, Paddy, Hughie and Kirby, find themselves dancing to the tune of the oft-mentioned Poppa Cat, leader of the local gang echelon, who can make life difficult for those in the gang and those on the outer. In a good drama you get caught up, find a way to care about characters so far removed from yourself; you wonder what will to happen to Hughie, whose Mum is dying in hospital following an accident, watch the essentially decent Hughie try to negotiate the manipulations of Kirby who is busily engineering the ugly descent of Paddy into mean ambition and rivalry, turning him against his oldest friend.
This work is like a stage version of a Tarantino film; we’re used to slick and funny violence on screen, but on stage, this uncomfortable mixture is hard to distance oneself from in order to be entertained, it creates ambivalence. The language is rich, lyrical and theatrical but it takes a while to get used to the actors’ thick accents. Damien Harrison as Paddy is a comical buffoon, Stuart Jeanfield is suitably menacing as Kirby and Vaughn Rae delivers a serious and preoccupied Hughie. Paddy’s bizarre moments of ‘accidental’ exposure seem to suggest a surreal level of subplot that isn’t played out in the text; something else is going on that isn’t resolved satisfactorily, despite the play’s theme of violent homophobia over-compensating for desire.
This script presents singular challenges in direction, such as a fight scene indoors, and here’s where the direction loses its momentum, with the final scene being anti-climactic. Everyone holds back. This production doesn’t quite pull off the mixture of humour and violence the script demands; it rings the punches but not the laughs. But the play itself sits uneasily in a contrived space, despite its compelling plot line. The highlight is the chilling fantasy scenario of male rape imagined by Kirby and Paddy, awful to hear but their exuberance is hilarious (a scene which doesn’t make psychological sense though, when the facts about Kirby come out later).
The theatre space at 550 Swan Road is bloody cold but blankets are provided.
TBC Theatre presents
Made In China
by Mark O'Rowe
Director Fleur Murphy
Venue: Q44 Theatre, 1st Floor, 550 Swan St Richmond VIC
Dates: July 8 – 25 2015
Tickets: $30 – $25