Quack

I’m experiencing a definite zombie zeitgeist… and I’m not talking about our current hung parliament. A friend of mine says that zombie films are really siege films- where a population is surrounded and consumed by zombies- the inescapable siege. Perhaps it’s the fact that Australia, in it’s island sensibility fears invasion so strongly that this zombie terror is raising it’s ugly undead head? In thinking about zombies- i think about the insatiable need to consume (often brains, I believe)- and that perhaps the rise of zombie presence is a comment on our need to mindlessly consume and purchase? I feel the zombie-ness acutely in my 14 hour work days- and surely I am not alone? We are the working poor, are we not?

I was curious to see Ian Wilding’s latest offering, Quack- for a couple of reasons… it was at the Stables a few years ago that I saw October- which I loved, and later in 2008, I saw two versions of Carnivores one at the New and one at The Old Fitz. Recently Wilding won the 2009 Patrick White Award for his play Forever Seven- which is what prompted me to invite him to be one of the writers for Brand Spanking New 2010. I was nervous though- I thought- Zombie play- Griffin- one of the references is Deadwood (I’m a recent convert to quality HBO TV series) – I might love it or i might really hate it… Then I saw that Chris Mead was directing- affectionately sitting in my books as “King Dramaturge” after an www.artshub.com.au article from 2007… and I felt an instant sense of relief.

It’s a very Aussie play- it sounds raucous, it’s irreverent- it references our land and animals- it’s rough as guts and unapologetic- and yet amazingly sophisticated and bright. I loved it. It is clear that this production is for those up for a cheeky bit of bawdy gross entertainment- this isn’t for your pearls and twinset folk- best head to the ensemble if you want a nice play. Best go the STC if you are looking for something road tested in another country- this is a raw and surprising production- I loved it- I loved it because it is over the top- brutal and nasty and funny and vaudevillian. I’d love to know what you thought.

This review is published on http://www.australianstage.com.au/201009043824/reviews/sydney/quack-|-griffin-theatre-company.html

Fringed by rich, rugged red curtains and caged lightbulbs, is a coarse wooden stage. A platform squeezed into the diamond shaped stage of The Stables, fit for a travelling freak show or a medicine man. It feels like the circus has come to town, but it’s not to bring relief in the form of joy, or a few heartfelt chuckles watching the feats of magic or impressive human endeavour. There is something else afoot… a bad moon rising perhaps?

Waterman (Charlie Garber), a young doctor, bright, brave and energetic has arrived in town, offering his services to assist the town’s older doctor, Littlewood (Chris Haywood), assistance in curing the miner’s disease, prevalent amongst the townsfolk. Littlewood having seen much illness before, insists that the town is going through a phase and the illness will pass naturally. Waterman insists that times are changing and what the town needs is his zenith water- an innovative new therapy which can cure what ails them. Before too long, we meet headstrong and earnest, aspiring author Fanny (Aimee Horne) who yearns to escape from the potential entrapment of marriage and it’s ensuing small town life, much to the chagrin of her well meaning guardian Nancy (Jeanette Cronin). Complete with some rough and tumble characters Gunner and Rodney (doubled by Cronin and Horne respectively) who are to undergo testicular surgery, there is definitely something rotten afoot, so to speak.

Ian Wilding’s script is an exquisite example of the western/zombie genre films- with a very distinct difference- the inherent theatricality of the language. At times forceful and direct- and at others fluid, poetic and perambulatory, Wilding has beautifully balanced style and genre, voice and character, contemporary with historical references. It slides between coarse farce and elegantly dark gothic horror.

Chris Mead’s production is smart, fun and at times suitably gory. This is not a doomsday play, intended to make you disintegrate into existential pain- it is an entertainment- the feeling of it is like that of a troupe of vaudevillian players trapped on an aging ghost train. It rattles along- using every trick in the book to scare, surprise and disgust- explosions of pus and body parts- blood and graphic depictions of illness- you have been warned. Designers William Bobbie Stewart (Set and Costume), Bernie Tan (Lighting), David Heinrich (Sound/Composer) have done an exemplary job creating this world. And if you look beyond the profusions of bodily fluids and the sinuous strings of expletives- there is a deeper commentary on progress, a discussion of gender politics, the place of the body/physical in the disembodied world. How casually we treat our bodies- how cavalierly we put faith in science and medicine. It is a Prometheus story, wrapped up in a new dressing- examining the insatiable zombie like desire for more- sex, power, education, influence.

I think the strength of this work is to be surprising- not only in explosions or gore- but in the beautiful oration f Waterhouse in his speech to Fanny where he implores her to lead the way for women kind. No one can deny Mead’s cast are formidably impressive- the spellbinding linguistic charisma of Garber’s Waterman, the headstrong practicality and sweet’n’sultry voice of Fanny (Horne), the chirrupy cockatoo squawk of Cronin’s Nancy and the drunken apathy Haywood’s Littlewood. Brilliant.

This production is like no other you’ll see this year- and like no other you are likely to see- this is raw, visceral spectacle- filled with song, and witty dialogue, and should you choose to examine a little closer, Wilding and Mead ask some painfully interesting questions.