I braced myself for the blinding white north- snow and fur trimmed hoodies. Actors huffing into their hands and rubbing them to keep them warm… Something overly patriotic from the US perhaps?


Instead, the debut play from a young writer DC Moore whose first production stood on it’s feet Upstairs at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2007. On the opposite side of the world, three years later, ATYP’s Under the Wharf season in conjunction with Raw Hide, houses an intelligent and taut production, crafted by the eye and ear of director Janice Muller.

Previously Muller’s production of A Woman in Berlin enjoyed a season in Berlin, had a brief stint in Sydney at The Old Fitzroy Hotel, and will be at the Malthouse in Melbourne later this year. It was a wonderful production and featured the talents of the very elegant Meredith Penman. This year Muller has assembled a cast of bright and energetic actors (or I think they have assembled her- which still makes them bright to choose a director of her calibre)- to tell this story.

Frank (Matthew Hyde) is a dope-dealing, bible-quoting, fatherless, friendless university drop out, who works in the snack bar of a cinema. Inconvenienced by a punk customer (Johann Walraven), reluctantly promoted at work, reluctantly pursued by his co-workers Chris (Andre Jewson) and Mamta (Kristy Best) and occasionally entwined in the “benefits” of a “friends with benefits” friendship with Emma (Hannah Levien), Frank is an unwilling participant in all aspects of his life.

Though the set is largely reminiscent of a flat-carpetted staff room- the space is constantly transforming – from bar, to bedroom, to front room, to front yard, to storeroom, to carpark- constantly in transition, so the action always seems to be happening in a space which is not mean to feel permanent. It feels like we are in a thoroughfare. Muller has chosen traverse staging, the audience to form each other’s backdrops. Actors create the spaces through a series of red belted cinema barriers- locking off, closing in and defining the location. Complimented by Matt Cox’s lighting design, costumes and set design are simple and emblematic- as they should be. Tom Hogan’s sound design is fun, dark and compliments and drives the action when necessary without being crass or overly prescriptive. This is a play about the ideas, the characters, the words- and at last the design is not overwhelming or trying to shout over the top of the text (as it seems to want to in many other productions I’ve seen recently.)

Most impressive is actually the performances- Frank is beautifully balanced by the dark and stormy performance Matthew Hyde creates. Frank is somehow likeable and we just want him to wake up to himself, fall in love, change his opinions, resolve all his anger- we hate what he thinks and what he says- but we see potential in him for change- and THAT is a remarkable thing. In the same way we like Emma, with her questionable morality, perhaps it’s her loyalty toFrank which is so attractive… or perhaps because she’s smarter than she looks and that exposes our own prejudices? We or course like Mamta- though she is not perfect- and a little too much at times but endearingly so and Chris is a hopeless romantic- but he is loveable and likeable not because of tragic unrequited love but because of his sense of self protection in his final scenes… All characters are beautifully flawed and surprisingly likeable: and for this play to really work- they have to be. And this cast have managed to engage with their characters from a non-judgemental stand point and in an open way, portraying them generously and simply. There is no one villain- as villain is is everyone, yet everyone is “normal.” It is this normal-ness which I the truly frightening aspect of the play.

Frank’s power comes from words- his actions are impotent- but it is his words- and the thoughts that support them that are frightening and violent beyond belief.

This is a production that is best discovered, not through reading plot synopsis or scouring reviews- but as a piece of live, spontaneous storytelling. It is an accessible and well crafted production and this is certainly the case – that knowing what the play is about, won’t attract you to it- but if you’ve seen it, you’ll be very glad you made the effort, took a punt and was open to seeing something you had no expectations of.

In spite of the fact that Muller’s directors note says this is a “specifically very British” play- I disagree. Having been brought up in a country town with a large population of people of Indian decent- I know for a fact, the insidiousness of the ideas in this story. I think Australia understands and confronts the issues in this play every day (if not every election when the issue of asylum seekers is raised)- we are tribal territorial in our politics and treatment of people and known internationally as racists in the face of the recent treatment of Indian students. This is not a play of elsewhere- it is closer to home than we would care to think or wish to acknowledge. Unfortunately relevant, and timely and this adds to the power of the play.

Unfortunately there are dramaturgical problems with the play (what happens to the character of Adam, for example?) and it could have done with another draft and those writerly problems will not inhibit the experience of the play- the play is not by any stretch perfectly written. But the directing is sleek, the performances are refreshingly tender and utterly unpretentious and the ideas meaty, horrifying and pertinent. It is a brave and at times very funny production and I recommend you check it out.