Right: Regan Lynch as Laidie.
Heavenly Bodies & Beautiful Souls
By Sven Swenson
Directed by James Trigg
Presented by Pentimento Productions and Brisbane Powerhouse
Runs form 18-28 November. Bookings: brisbanepowerhouse.org.
On so many levels and in so many different ways, the need to be understood and accepted is a universal human drive. This was a note from playwright Sven Swenson in his program notes and begs the mind to really contemplate these needs. That is where the exploration of tonight’s plays come in.
Heavenly Bodies and Beautiful Souls are gritty. They’re dark, funny, harrowing, gruelling and touching. They are two of the best plays I have ever seen from Australian theatre. It is a fitting title for Swenson to be dubbed “The Bard of Brisbane”, his works were really something else. This double bill production, produced by Pentimento Productions was definitely something energetic, fast paced and poignant.
Heavenly Bodies follows the story of Henry Cutler, or “Cutty” for short. He is a soldier in World War II and is stationed in Singapore. Allowed to go on furlough for a few hours, Cutty and his comrades make their way to a brothel wherein they each go their separate ways to find some fun. Cutty is sent to a room where he finds the special Laidie. As he is a very married man, Cutty just wants to talk and wile the time away not doing the usual business. Laidie is very accommodating but as time stretches on, they begin to come to know one another more and eventually, find in one another mutual respect and understanding. This piece was so stunning. The acting was exceptionally good, with Sam Ryan and Regan Lynch as Cutty and Laidie making performances so real that it was hard to imagine, at times, that these were actors. Both men spun their roles with skill and ease so as to weave a realistic image of war torn Singapore. Admittedly, I enjoyed this play a little more than the second half of the double bill – Lynch as Laidie was absolutely gorgeous and Ryan’s Cutty was quite endearing. The energy from both actors was high which meant that nothing dragged and the emotions shone through all the clearer.
Beautiful Souls followed the warm, nostalgic ambience of Heavenly Bodies with a coldness and sterility that was bled through the script. It introduced the stories of Beth, David and Justin and allowed the audience to see into the lives of convicted drug smugglers on death row in a foreign country. It is alluded during the performance that Beth would have met David and Justin, who are brothers, and then travelled with them. Beth is a daring, thrill-seeking young woman, who has bitten off more than she could chew.
David and his intellectually disabled brother Justin, are descendants from Cutty the soldier and both thought it would have been ok to smuggle hash through Thailand without getting caught. Beautiful Souls recollects their final night together as they desperately await word of a reprieve. What was more likely to await them however, was a hangman’s noose. Here, the acting, like in Heavenly Bodies was executed extremely well. Casey Woods, Zachary Boulton and Peter Norton as Beth, David and Justin respectively each captured the basic human instinct for a fight to survive. They really were able to act out the tumultuous emotions that death row prisoners must face and like the play before it, with an ease that blurred the lines between acting and reality. The energy from all three actors was high and snappy which again, picked up the pace of the performance, allowing it not to drag and sag and fall into what could easily have been an hour of nails-on-chalkboard screeching.
The sets for both these pieces were very well constructed. The warmth of Heavenly Bodies was reflected in shades of red with plush furniture and golden lighting. The sterility and coldness of Beautiful Souls, in the eerie sparseness of simple chain link fencing and ominous nooses hanging from the ceiling with simple white lighting. Ray Milner, Production designer and Matt Milne, lighting designer should be commended for their work in adding to the ambience of the show and making it shine, sometimes literally.
Heavenly Bodies and Beautiful Souls is a double bill production of two interconnected plays that flow through time and afford intimate and ambient looks into the lives of Australians trapped with the ongoing fear of death and how they deal with it. Both plays were acted with incredible talent and it will be interesting to follow the careers of these talented actors in the future.