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Review - Tequila Mockingbird: more powerful than ever

October 8, 2016

 

Right: Nelle Lee and Ross Balbuziente as Rachel and Joel.

Below right: Nelle Lee with Shannon Haelger as Sameer

 

Tequila Mockingbird

Created by shake & stir Theatre Company

Written by Nelle Lee

Directed by Michael Futcher

Cremorne Theatre

Queensland Performing Arts Centre

South Bank

Brisbane

 

Season: October 5-15. Bookings on QTIX 136 246 or www.qpac.com.au

 

After enjoying the original production back in 2013 I wondered how a repeat performance would stack up. The answer is simple; it was better; more gripping and powerful. And the

twin themes of racism and domestic violence resonated even more.

I sat engrossed for the full 90 minutes of the production and my feelings towards the characters changed too. The cast was the same, so maybe the script has been tweaked here and there to make what I saw as a couple of weak spots stronger.

This tale of racial discrimination is loosely based on Harper Lee’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The basic plot is similar but the characters and situations differ a lot. The action is set in a dying outback town. Sameer, a new doctor arrives. He is an Indian who is on his first assignment since leaving his home country. The instant reactions from the townspeople stretch from caution to outright hatred of the “curry muncher”.

In the original production I found Shannon Haelger’s Sameer much too nice as he took the insults with a smile, was conciliatory and rarely bit back at his antagonists. I felt that when he was accused of sexually assaulting Rachel, there was no way, even in such a dastardly town, that a jury was going to run in a guilty verdict.

But, having forgotten the ending I lived through the trial and the suspense was electric. The characterisations were strong enough for me to wonder how it would all end.

Particularly resentful of the new doctor is foul mouthed town drunk Trish and her frustrated, angry and out of work thug of a son Joel, who takes his anger out on his partner Rachel who is regularly physically abused.

In the original show I thought: “Rachel is a typical victim of domestic violence. She has no self esteem and always has an “accident” excuse for her beatings from Joel. Nelle Lee is so convincing in the role she left me exasperated at her own silliness”.

But this time she was softer and alone, afraid of life itself, I felt sympathy rather than frustration.

The script is tight and well paced with the many location and character switches neatly catered for and there were some great comic moments to temper the heavy drama,

The set designed by Josh McIntosh was a simple and effective wall of tiles that, with Jason Glenwright’s lighting plot and Guy Webster’s amazing sound design, succeeded in creating many different backgrounds and moods.

Six actors play 11-roles between them and each is finely different and performed well.

Trish is beautifully played by Barbara Lowing and she is just brilliant as she switches from Trish to the prissy Sue, and the happy-go-lucky-she’ll-be-right barmaid Karen. There no any confusion whenever she is on stage.

Trish is the perfect Bogan, uneducated, rude, offensive, and sickening as she fawns over her over-indulged son. Ross Balbuziente plays the sullen, abusive Joel with a convincing show of inner burning anger. It was a complete contrast to the silly young Mitch, the town playmate of Marty, the son of Richard. Richard is a divorced Sydney lawyer who has returned to his roots and dragged his recalcitrant, city-bred son with him.

Teenaged Marty is one of the characters played by Nick Skubij. The other is bar fly Dan, one of Joel and Rachel’s mates. Again here was a stronger character than in the original.

Nelle Lee’s other character was Mel, the young daughter of the prissy Sue who was always “led” Into trouble by Charlie and Mitch. What a contrasting role was that for Nelle.

The only actors with single roles were Bryan Probets and Shannon Haegler as Richard and Sameer, the doctor. Probets was nicely world-weary as the lawyer who took on the defence of the unfortunate Sameer and earned the hatred of his community.

The short but electric trial scene at the end was brutal and Nelle Lee was terrific as the terrified witness.

The whole thing was wonderfully pulled together by Michael Futcher. He really knew his cast and how to bring out the best in them.

Oh – the title comes from the name of a real cocktail: 1 1/2 oz tequila, 3/4 oz green crème de menthe, and the juice of 1 lime.

 Nelle Lee with Nick Skubij as Dan.

 Barbara Lowing as barmaid Karen

 

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