Theatre Review: The Gods of Strangers

This play is nothing short of a triumph, full of people who’ve been left off the stage for too long, and a piece of this country’s history largely ignored.

Presented by State Theatre Company of South Australia
Reviewed 15 November 2018

It is said that if a stranger knocks on your door, you let them in – they could be a god in disguise. But, what do they bring in with them?

This is the enigmatic line that has graced most of STCSA’s marketing surrounding The Gods of Strangers, the last show of their 2018 season. It demonstrates a lot of what makes up this production. It’s straightforward. It wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s immediate, domestic, but still echoes with aeons of history. This play is nothing short of a triumph, full of people who’ve been left off the stage for too long, and a piece of this country’s history largely ignored.

Elena Carapetis’ script feels like a Christmas dinner—it’s bursting with juice, decked out as it is with lashings of plot, blood-rich characters, and enough blue talk to make a thousand sailors blush. Carapetis nails the speech and attitudes of Greek, Cypriot and Italian migrants in post-war Port Pirie, with big characters pulsing with life. We’ve never seen people like this on the stage before, pithy and passionate; and yet they are always familiar. In tackling fascism, racism, class and detention camps—personified in this play by Loveday—it delves into a section of Australia’s history that hasn’t been explored before, as least to my knowledge, and is all the richer for it.

The cast are uniformly excellent, headed by the uproarious Dina Panozzo as Assunta. She’s outstanding, an athletic performer that delights in using their whole body to portray the fierce boarding house owner. Renato Musolino is surprisingly tender in his portrayal of Vito, while Eugenia Fragos blazes as Anna. The character of Agnes, played by Elizabeth Hay, may get some flack for being something of a caricature; this would be a mistake though. Her character is a mightily refreshing criticism of white atittudes to immigration in the 1940s, and she shares a dazzling beautiful moment with Panozzo that stuck with me long after the play ended.

In one of his last plays as Artistic Director, Geordie Brookman has delivered perhaps his finest direction. Working with a tremendous set from Victoria Lamb, fantastic sound design and compositions from Andrew Howard and Hilary Kleinig respectively, and a gorgeous lighting design from Gavin Norris, The Gods of Strangers ticks every box splendidly and delivers an all-round spectacular showing. This is Australian storytelling at its finest.

Reviewed by C J McLean
Twitter: @cjmclean_

Venue:  Dunstan Playhouse
Season:  15 Nov-2 Dec 2018
Duration:  2hrs 40mins (including 20min interval)
Tickets:  Adult $84, Concession $74, Under 30s $38, Primary/Secondary Student $30, Molfetta Concession $59.20
Bookings:  http://statetheatrecompany.com.au/shows/the-gods-of-strangers/

Photo credit: Chris Herzfeld:

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