Right: Writer Stephen Carleton and director Ian Lawson.
Photos by Deanne Scott. More after show photos follow the review.
By Stephen Carleton
Directed by Ian Lawson
Queensland Theatre Company presentation
Jute Theatre Company Production
Bille Brown Studio
Season: April 6-16 Bookings: www.queenslandtheatre.com.au or 136 246. Duration: three hours including two 20 minute intervals.
A three-hour night in a theatre is a rarity these days, as is a new three-act play. But that’s what the audience got with this second run of Stephen Carleton’s play. (It ran in Darwin and Cairns in 2014.)
The three acts are needed in this narrative because the play is set in three different time zones - Darwin in 2001, Port Moresby in PNG in 1963, and again, Darwin this time in 1975 after Cyclone Tracy had torn through the city.
Carleton’s script is well structured, but I felt the third act was a bit messy, the necessary suspense was missing and eventually I really didn’t care whether Russell’s father’s name was revealed or not.
He also imparts plenty of humour into what is really a dark story.
The action opened in 2001 when dark-skinned Russell played by Benhur Helwend and his partner Alistair, played as a secondary role by Peter Norton, have transformed Russell’s childhood home into the ‘Tectonic Plate’ an art gallery and gay cabaret nightclub.
This is when Russell starts his search for his missing parents and it is through his narration that we see the full story…
Back in Moresby Lois, played nicely by Lauren Jackson, is an ex TAA hostess newly married to Neville, a member of the colonial bureaucracy. She takes in instant distaste to the life and become friendly with three local PNG men, Marius, a political activist, Pita an actor and Cliff a houseboy.
Neville is often away and the bored Lois starts to play away from home and ends up pregnant and at the same time we are told that something dreadful has happened to Neville in the field.
Neville knows the child is not his, but the couple stay in the fractured marriage and go back to Darwin where the baby, Russell, is born. Because of his dark skin he is told that he has been adopted.
The name of his true father is never revealed to anyone.
He also happens to be gay, which does not go down well with Neville.
Benhur Helwend performed a near impossible task in the play. He plays Russell as a child, as an adult, and all three of his potential fathers. But he managed to be convincing in all roles, using a pair of glasses and a cap to differentiate. He skipped in an out of the set, sometimes his own presence was marked by a halo around a chair or milk crate. His vocal delivery did not change a lot, but this worked for me because Russell is a bit of a Peter Pan, a little boy all through, as all his other characters tended to be.
It was a performance to be admired.
Russell’s BF in his childhood was Cleo from his primary school class. She was played by Ella Watson-Russell and, like Russell, grew up convincingly. She also played two more characters.
Then we had nasty Nannette, (Suellen Maunder) the Port Moresby poison-tongued gossip, who inconveniently turns up later in Darwin, much to the chagrin of Neville and Lois, and adds a little more poison into their lives.
Through this tightrope walk of a marriage Peter Norton was superb in his main role as Neville. He brought every facet of Neville’s character; the stiff unbending man, the despair and the fear of disclosure.
Then on top of this was Neville as an old man, played in his usual fine acting style by Steven Tandy. He continued the characterisation beautifully, particularly when the incident that wrecked his life was revealed.
Ian Lawson did a fine job keeping the play moving and his actors on the ball.
Above: Artistic Director Sam Strong joins cast members and friends.
Below left: Peter Norton and Steve Tandy. Below Right: Ella Watson-Russell and Benhur Helwend.
Bottom: Eric Scott catches up with old colleague Peter Norton.