Returning to The Malthouse’s Beckett Theatre for the first time in two years, it was a night of debuts across the board at the premiere of Aran Thangaratnam’s Stay Woke. Not only was this the writer’s debut at The Malthouse, but the cast and creative team were all debuting on the mainstage for this production.
A simple premise which belies layers upon layers of family history, older brother Niv invites his younger brother Sai and his girlfriend to spend a weekend away at the snowy peaks of Mt Buller in an attempt to reconcile their estranged relationship.
Niv (Dushan Phillips) is the self-confessed black sheep, has a lot of opinions and unapologetically shares them. His brother Sai, (Kaivu Suvarna) is more measured, more pleasant, and as he says, “More loved by their parents.” While the two have been apart for many years, there is a strong connection between the two actors, and their behaviour is startling accurate when it comes to being stuck in a room with your siblings. The two bounce between adult conversations, to playful teasing of rough and tumble fighting within moments of being reunited and it’s quite sweet to watch the two lean into the playfulness of the action.
Joined by their partners Mauve (Brooke Lee), and Kate (Rose Adams), tensions are quickly brought to the surface as Kate’s regional upbringing, youth and naivete is exposed. Adams is awkwardly wonderful as Kate, as she struggles to remove her foot from her mouth for almost the entire production. She constantly says the wrong thing, doubles down and makes it so much worse, her comedic timing is genius. Adams also treads the line of not alienating the audience with her views, Kate is still very likable, or perhaps, she is very relatable.
Many of Kate’s faux pas surround Niv’s partner Mauve who identifies as non-binary. Mauve is the calm in the storm of this story and the role is played beautifully by Lee. There’s a quiet strength in this character, they are both bubbly and bright, (with some fantastic lines still running through my head and making me laugh) and stoic and strong. Mauve is sure of themselves. They are the peacekeeper amongst all the madness.
Written for the Malthouse Theatres’ Malcolm Robertson Writers program in 2020, writer Aran Thangaratnam has some wonderful potential, but I would have loved to see the characters fleshed out some more. It was a short production, one act of 90 minutes or so, and they did well to get so much content in that time frame. However, I would have loved more time spent with just the brothers and discovering their past and their path to reconciliation.
Stay Woke is a wonderful return to The Malthouse mainstage, the story is relevant and funny while the characters are cringeworthy, angry, sad, in love and all the wonderful things that make being different something to be celebrated.
Malthouse Theatre Presents:
by Aran Thangaratnam
Director Bridget Balodis
Venue: Beckett Theatre | Malthouse, Southbank VIC
Dates: 25 Feb – 13 March 2022