The latest production at Red Stitch is notable for a number of reasons: Tom Holloway’s first play packs a punch, Suzanne Chaundy directs it with velvet gloves, and the cast is entirely composed of guest performers, yet maintains the high standard the actors’ theatre is known for. Andreas Litras’ one-man show Odyssey is also worth catching: an entertaining fusion of ancient myth and modern migration, now playing as part of the Antipodes Festival, a celebration of Greek culture in Australia.
Beyond the Neck, by Tom Holloway, Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Until April 14.
Tom Holloway’s Beyond the Neck composes the long shadow of the Port Arthur massacre into a beautifully graduated piece of chamber theatre, a feat more remarkable for the discordant enormity of its subject.
Subtitled ‘A Quartet on Loss and Violence’, the play possesses an unemphatic musicality and Suzanne Chaundy’s rhythmical direction draws it out. She crafts an effect redolent of the purity and sadness of plainsong from the afterechoes of a tragedy few encounter and even fewer can weave into the pattern of their lives.
Four characters converge on Port Arthur years after the massacre – a young boy with a disturbing secret (Marcus McKenzie), a teenage girl whose father was gunned down (Philippa Spicer), a grieving mother on a bus trip across Tasmania (Emmaline Carroll), and an old man who witnessed the horror himself (Roger Oakley).
Against a washed-out backdrop that suggests the rugged beauty of the Tasmanian coast, their stories emerge in brittle fragments, the burden of telling passed between them in a playful, painful struggle. The simplicity and concentration of the staging intensifies the strength of the ensemble acting.
All four performers creep toward harrowing emotion without a shred of sentiment, bringing a lightness of being to the densely scarred material. With precision and black humour, Spencer dons the jaded armour of a teenager lost in a labyrinth of conspiracy and denial. McKenzie rises to the difficult challenge of playing a child at a moment of lost innocence. Carroll’s skin of irritability and whimsical daydream is flayed off to expose the deepest of wounds. Oakley’s luminous gentleness and uncomplaining front vanish into the uncanniness of memory relived.
Beyond the Neck is a haunting drama, and this nuanced ensemble production from Red Stitch allows its soft, broken chords to sing.
Odyssey, By Andreas Litras and John Bolton, Identity Theatre, The Open Stage, Melbourne University, Until March 31.
Home. It’s a powerful and ephemeral idea, one that provokes as much torment as solace, as much longing as belonging.
Andreas Litras’s one-man show flits between the epic homecoming of Homer’s Odyssey and the contemporary migrant experience, telling the story of his parents’ journey to Australia in the wake of the Greek civil war and their quest to make a home from lives lived between cultures.
It’s clear that Litras’s own home is the stage, and it’s a joy to watch theatre that feels so fully inhabited. The show’s Homeric strand is related in the persona of an ageing Greek-Australian stagehand. The story might be Greek, but the irreverent reverence of the physical theatre and mock-heroic clowning that brings it to life is very much Australian, and Litras has a rare gift for working an audience.
His two-minute rendition of the Iliad is hilarious, but the comedy burgeons into something less ridiculous and more visually arresting as Odysseus reaches the land of the dead. Interspersed throughout are biographical episodes, where Litras embodies his parents and offers a tranquil narration on their lives.
Here, the physical theatre reaches effortlessly into more difficult emotional territory, with heightened caricature directed to shadowy glimpses of his father’s gambling problem, the drudgery of running a fish and chip shop, the sting of being called a wog, the overwhelming moment of reunion with family after many decades, and the incense and icons of a funeral come too soon.
John Bolton’s direction keeps many balls in the air, the staging and lighting design effectively suggest slivers of place and displacement, and Litras creates entertaining and ultimately poignant theatre from the interplay between myth and lived experience.