Reviewed by Frank Barnes

Theatre is such a personal thing. I have sat in a play and hated every moment while surrounded by an audience that adores it. And vice versa. I once came out of a show that I had seen with my then partner and I raved for at least 10 minutes about how wonderful it was, how the dances were metaphors for life and living and the performances were the best I had ever seen. He was eventually able to interrupt my insane rave to say how he thought it was the worst thing ever, he had gone to sleep and the acting was atrocious. This was in the ’60s when I was involved in alternative hippie theatre where I acted in and helped write “amazing” performances that challenged the normal processes of theatre. I loved it and thought it was the beginning of a new world of theatre and the direction in which it was headed. Of course, I now pick my plays and don’t see much “challenging” theatre at all. The Sydney Theatre company does a few shows a year that could be described as different, and the Belvoir constantly challenges.

All of this is by way of an introduction to a recent weekend in Sydney where I saw three very different productions which brought these thoughts to mind.

Cain and Abel

Created by Kate Davis and Emma Valente
Directed by Emma Valente
Presented by Belvoir and THE RABBLE
Belvoir Downstairs

I disliked this so much despite the fact it reminded me of the “alternative” theatre in which I was so deeply involved half a century ago. It was this fact that got me through the hour of watching the two women supposedly looking at the question of “what if Cain and Abel were women?”

They performed for most of the time encased in a perspex trapezoid cage and said little. They threw lots of water around and looked quite naked after a while.

I had to restrain myself from giggling and started watching how the rest of the audience was reacting. A good number made their escape in the moments between the scenes. It was really disappointing as this was the first play I have seen in the Downstairs theatre that I haven’t loved. There is a place in our society that needs alternate and challenging theatre. For me this was not the place.

But as we were leaving the woman beside us said, “Wasn’t that wonderful? So much better than that dreadful Mojo.” We had seen and loved Mojo the day before.


By Jez Butterworth
Directed by Iain Sinclair
Sydney Theatre Company
Wharf 1

We don’t get to see a lot of modern British theatre these days so it was a real pleasure to see this surprise. It was a hit at The Royal Court in London in 1995. It was a first play by Butterworth and proved an immediate hit. It is set in 1958 in a sleazy nightclub and looks at a group of would-be crims involved in the running of the club and its singer, Silver Johnny (Jeremy Davidson from the Snowdroppers). Potts (Josh McConville) and Sweets (Ben O’Toole) are discussing the situation of the club when boss Mickey (Tony Martin) tells them of the owner’s murder. Skinny (Eamon Farren) is the bumbling, eager to please errand boy and is put upon by them all. The group is completed when they are joined by Baby (Lindsay Farris), the owner’s son, who is like a very tightly wound spring and likely to go off at any time.

The play has a feel of the Guy Ritchie movie Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, that of incompetent British crims bumbling around as they try to reach the top of the tree. It is in turn very funny and frightening, with some very violent moments.

The performances are outstanding with all the actors capturing their characters and accents perfectly. Josh McConville reaffirms how good he is as Potts, who is totally different from the role he played in Voices Off. Great to see Tony Martin on stage again but the knockout performance is that of Lindsay Farris as Baby. He only took over the role as they moved into the preview when Sam Haft had to withdraw. He moves superbly and he is so frightening that you can feel the tension in the audience.

The singing is live at the beginning and end of show, the set is great but there are some moments that were not working when I saw the show. There is a long opening scene with Potts and Sweets which should be much tighter and funnier. For some reason the pacing there was wrong. Hopefully it has been sorted out by now. Despite that, the play is well worth seeing.

20 Questions

Trevor Jamieson in 20 Questions.

Devisors: Wesley Enoch, Eamon Flack
Host: Wesley Enoch
Belvoir Upstairs

I enjoyed this show so much I am going again in a few weeks. It is a very simple device. The show runs every Monday night until August 11. Each week there is an unannounced guest Indigenous artist who is asked, in three acts, questions about themselves, their lives and their attitudes.

Guests include actor and playwright Jada Roberts, composer David Page, Leah Purcell, Trevor Jamieson, Miranda Tapsell and Ursula Yovich. We had Rachael Maza who I don’t like as an actor but after this show I love as a person. She comes from an activist background.

The show lets us into the background of the person and how they cope with life in their country. How they cope with racism is just one big question and the format lets us see that Indigenous people are so like us white middle-class people who are the main part of the audience. I, along with Rachael, laughed and cried and answered the “many more than 20” questions.

Please do yourself a favour and go spend a wonderful 80 minutes in the company of some great people. You will enjoy yourself and, like me, probably learn something and also experience that great feeling of being in a group that responds as one to the show, unlike audience reaction the other two plays.

Frank Barnes is retired, and some would say “theatrical”. He admires the Belvoir for continuing to present Indigenous theatre and is looking forward to Brothers Wreck.