Like the bastard child of Kath & Kim meets Wolf Creek, the exceptional Angel Gear by Sven Swenson
(co-directed by Brian Lucas & Sven Swenson) is a production about unlikeable people and their
horrible existence. Not ordinarily the kind of play that I would be attracted to, I came away from this
La Boite Indie production both awed and repulsed by Swenson (the repulsion coming from his
unnerving portrayal of Edge, the inhuman, head perpetrator of the story).
The master playwright carefully leads us into the fringes of life as we know it. Yes, we are a bunch of
privileged city-slickers watching a play about a violent, drug-fuelled community that we will never
have first-hand experience of but isn’t that one of the duties of the creative, to shine a light on
otherness? Swenson begins by amusing us with the stereotypical bogan characters we all love to
laugh at and while we enjoy the humour here, we also sense there is something sinister brewing and
there certainly is.
Enter the bold “shrew-like” Jayanne – brilliantly played by Casey Woods, Chantel (Cindy Nelson)
born into a type of slavery assigned to women of her ilk, Creed (Zachary Boulton) and Foz (Kieran
Law) and their semi-conscious struggle against their genetic disposition to violence, the tortured
Smeg (Michael Deed), unwitting Gary (Dan Stockwell), Sugar the slime (Stephen Geronimos) and
poor sub-human meth-head Spite (unforgettably played by Sam Plummer). These young people have
been raised into a perverse life of gang-banging and meth labs, an inescapable existences completely
controlled by the sadistic monster Edge, the self-professed leader of the corrupt outer-Ipswich
Englishman Gary is the bastard child of the leader. On the death of his mother he finds his way to
Australia looking for his long-lost father. It is a mistake that may cost him his life when he finds
himself trapped in the seedy underworld of his father’s creation – a place where a Customs Officer
doesn’t want to be found out.
Stereotypes or not, these characters are recognisable: relations perhaps, long-gone friends, or
legends passed on through generations. Swenson has brilliantly and faithfully captured that sad
redneck character that, jokes aside, is dangerously close to home.
The thriller genre is a rarity for the stage – perhaps because it is easier to cope with this level of
ingrained violence with the protective barrier of the plasma screen. Being in the same room is to be
in collusion with the perpetrator. The extreme violence however, rough as it is, is not prolonged and
we are rewarded with an interesting twist at the end when Kieran Law shines through. Stand-out
performances from Casey Woods and Sam Plummer however the entire cast are applauded for their
fine work and it must have been hard work to keep these dreadful characters going for almost two
hours. On that note, it’s rare that a two-hour long production can keep me awake let alone engaged
so another win for the Angel Gear team.
This production comes with warnings and so it should. You don’t want to go to this if you need to be
wary of triggers - act two is especially hard for women to watch. But if you are up for a challenge,
Angel Gear is absolutely worth your time whether just to watch this great, well-paced story
unfolding or to witness the craft of impeccable theatre making, it’s all there. Angel Gear is playing at
La Boite until November 8 with Dangerfield Park (an interconnected work from the Sundial Plays)
commencing it’s season this Tuesday, October 21 – I will be there with bells on.
This has been a monumental year of growth for The Blue Roo Theatre Company from the highs of Opera Queensland’s Open Stage program to the tragedy of losing a founding member and friend Jamie Carrigan. Song Circle (Judith Wright Centre October 9-11) is the result of that growth; a suite of twelve personal stories laid bare in original songs, the culmination of a ten month collaborative process with Opera Queensland and a touching dedication to the missing Roo whom they lost along the way.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this unique ensemble perform a few times and yet I am still amazed at just how uplifted and joyful I come away from an evening spent in their ever-growing audience. What’s more I learn something new each time we meet. I was honestly surprised at the maturity of Song Circle – mature not only in the depth of their subject matter but also in how the performers have developed their craft over the time that I have seen them. They have grown into a disciplined and intuitive crew.
The production itself is well balanced and there is no doubt that this show is by and about the Blue Roo Ensemble with Sam Hartley and Susan Ellis from Opera Queensland adding a subtle and harmonious compliment to the show but the mentorship of the Open Stage program is evident in the quality of the performances.
Song Circle is raw on the eyes as well as the emotion; just the performers, a row of striking red chairs and a spotlight inhabit the stage. We are greeted by the lovely melodies of the live orchestra, a signature of the Blue Roo experience with musical direction and composition by Elliot Thomson. The Ensemble file in from behind both sides of the audience and open the circle with song - almost like a welcome to country for the soul.
Having only seen Opera on the big stage before, I am struck at just how operatic the Judith Wright space feels. Artistic Directors Jason Barry-Smith and Clark Crystal have done a stellar job of making this small stage appear larger than life and as the musical numbers flourish, the performers seem also to grow larger into the space. They really come to life in Silly Song, a comedy interlude with slap-stick, interactive jokes and it is a real hoot for the performers as well as the audience.
Stand-out moments were Liam’s Rose - Liam Maloney’s wonderful voice caused me to wonder if he was a Blue Roo or with Opera Queensland, Wheels on Fire - a stunning choreographed danced piece by four wheelchair performers, and Love Duet - originally a duet between Nikela Carrigan and her husband Jamie but in Jamie’s absence, Sam Hartley and Susan Ellis stepped in to support Nikela through this touching song. I have to admit to a case of watering eyes during this one.
Blue Roo have once again proven that disability and theatre are a winning combination and inspiration and creativity is something that we can all share. Under the proud, guiding hand of Artistic Director Crystal Clark, Blue Roo continue blaze a trail for inclusive theatre everywhere. For more information about Blue Roo visit their website www.bluerootheatre.org.au.
Someone needs to see all the things.