Presented by Red Phoenix Theatre
Reviewed 19th May, 2017
There’s a lot more to this political thriller than a tale of two quibbling siblings. Although Melbourne playwright Hannie Rayson wrote this crackling show more than 12 years ago, it runs like a televised current affairs report, showing the underside of Australian politics. And even though the story pivots on two brothers’ values and beliefs, Rayson’s passionate text finally makes it a story about each one of us.
In the roles of the eponymous brothers are the Eustice brethren – fine Adelaide–based theatre practitioners for many years. The play pits these men against each other because their ideologies are polar opposites. Brant Eustice is Liberal Party politician James (“Eggs”) Benedict, currently Minister for Homeland Security in the Australian federal government. His brother, Tom Benedict, played by Michael Eustice, is a politically left-leaning lawyer who works as a refugee advocate and activist. Inevitably, there’s a faint echo of the Costello brothers.
We are introduced to the brothers Benedict and their partners early in the play in a bravura set of monologues which grow into four inter-cut speeches, as neat as a string quartet. We meet Fiona Benedict, the politician’s wife, in a natty navy suit, disciplined blonde hair and earnest South Yarra tones provided by Lyn Wilson. Tom’s partner, played by Tracey Walker, is passionate, straight-talking Greek-Australian school-teacher, Angela Sidoropoulos. But it doesn’t take playwright Rayson long to move the plot away from simplistic left-versus-right politics and into the murkier depths of refugees, human rights, sovereign borders, political power, family loyalties and national security. She does it without polemic, by engaging our sympathies for real people and realistic issues.
All this wouldn’t happen if the actors weren’t up to the job. It’s inevitable that Brant and Michael Eustice bring special warmth and light to this text; what cannot be taken for granted is the sheer brilliance of Brant Eustice’s work. His vocal range is superb, his emotional reach is fearless; he breathes deft nuances into all of his scenes. Counterbalancing Brant, brother Michael’s Tom is idealistic, compassionate, and stubbornly principled. Their synergy helps enliven both characters. Tracey Walker is all heart, with warmth, sincerity and passionate honesty radiating from her glorious Angela, while Lyn Wilson’s Fiona shows us the steady demolition of a loyal wife by an insupportable set of circumstances.
Alicia Jaye (a.k.a. Zorkovic), as Ministerial Senior Adviser, Jamie Savage, has the requisite strength, both vocal and emotional, to make her pivotal role more than a match for her fellow-actors. Fahad Farooque deserves special commendation for his authentic portrayal of refugee Hazem Al Ayad. His honest believability helps build the drama. From squared-away naval officer to conflicted son, Joshua Coldwell gives a thoughtful portrayal, while Joshua Mensch’s Harry pivots between indifference and rage. Versatile Cheryl Douglas fills her three minor roles seramlessly.
The play’s many scenes are succinct, succeeding each other swiftly and smoothly, giving the whole narrative a filmic quality. This demands a style of direction at ease with quick telly grabs and neat dissolves. Although the story moves at an appropriately headlong pace, management of transitions between scenes could have been achieved with greater grace by making better use of a range of music and sound cues.
Director Robert Kimber has cast this piece well, and his vision for its style aids the storytelling. Cast members are seated at the back of the stage in full view of the audience, from start to finish. Unobtrusively, they sometimes leave and reappear, but all performance entrances happen in view. There’s no attempt at a box-set. The stage area is all black; a simple jewel box in which we see only the people, beautifully lit by Richard Parkhill’s lighting design. The light states seem to propel the action, giving it urgency.
Red Phoenix Theatre’s policy of only presenting Adelaide premiere shows has paid off again. As a political fable about what it takes to make inconvenient truths disappear so that the ruling party (of whatever stripe) may continue to govern Australia in its preferred style, Rayson’s play is a well-argued forensic examination of Australia’s ethics and mores. The pity is that its message is still necessary and relevant, 12 years on.
Reviewed by Pat. H. Wilson
Venue: Holden Street Theatres – The Studio
Season: 18th – 27th May, 2017
Duration: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Tickets: $17.50 – $24:50
Bookings: Internet – www.redphoenixtheatre.com/nextplay/
Phone – 8225 8888
At the door subject to availability