Left – Jennifer Vuletic. Cover – Sapidah Kian. Photo – Sarah Walker
Porn shoots, prisons, migrant camps and festering teenage boys’ rooms – the raw, incendiary scenes of acclaimed Melbourne playwright Christos Tsiolkas spring to life like a contemporary, sex-drenched Greek tragedy in the hands of Little Ones Theatre.
The gender bending, queer Melbourne company has done great justice to the first adaptation of Tsiolkas’ 2014 collection of short stories, evoking beauty out of darkness and tenderness out of brutality. And they have staged it, pertinently, in the author’s own stomping ground. The play’s damaged soul’s parade on a tapered, traverse stage against a gothic blood red curtain, effectively symbolising the two strong themes in Tsiolkas’ work: death and sex.
In the past, set and costume designer Eugene Teh has given Little One’s productions a glorious pop art feel, but she has gone for minimalism with Merciless Gods, which evokes the Greek tragedy and allows the hefty script to stand out beautifully and starkly.
This is without doubt a step up for Little Ones Theatre – they have always done camp and quirky so well, but Tsiolkas’ den of iniquity demands a higher standard of acting from its players. Brigid Gallagher is steely and brooding in her stand out scene as a mother seething with disgust for her teenage son, Paul Benheim captures all the hopeless fragility of a young junky in love, and Charles Purcell is heartbreaking as the son who’s charismatic father is about to be euthanased. But stealing the show by far is the chameleonic, androgynous Jennifer Vuletic who slips mercurially from a sociopathic, bohemian writer to a broken Italian mother, commanding the stage and inhabiting her characters with a bewitching force.
The final scene is alienating and violent, as it was no doubt intended to be, but the lasting note would have been very different and maybe more effective if the order of the play had been altered.
Merciless Gods is not for the faint of heart – for those who prefer the softer, soap opera-style of The Slap – but for fans who do find poetry in the darkness of Tsiolkas’ writing, this play is a must see and deserves to be taken to the rest of Australia.
Little Ones Theatre presents
based on the book by Christos Tsiolkas | adapted by Dan Giovannoni
Directed by Stephen Nicolazzo
Venue: Northcote Town Hall, Main Hall, 189 High St, Northcote
Dates: 25 July – 15 August 2017
Tickets: $35 – $29
Bookings: www.northcotetownhall.com.au | 03 9481 9500