Theatre Review: Ladies Day – Griffin Theatre Company (performances to 26th March)

Griffin Theatre Company proudly supports and presents all new Australian works, a fitting program for their stables-turned-theatre venue. “Australian” and “new” means that the work can often hit a little closer to home in terms of language, setting and relevance. In their latest production, Ladies Day, nothing is more fitting then describing it as hitting, for it gets you. Right there in the feelings.

The play is set in Broome, the language colloquial and frank, the spattering of (wonderful) songs that the cast break into throughout are really the only “theatrical” moments. What we are left with is a story honest and raw, and dotted with the hard-hitting truth that the verbatim words of the play were formed from in-person interviews that the playwright actually conducted. The dialogue in the play being an amalgamation of these interviews so as to keep anonymity. Nothing makes something more real then knowing it has a full foundation in reality, and this is what makes Ladies Day so powerful.

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Our in-play playwright, for we are told that the in-play and actual playwright are irresolutely connected (more on that later), is in Broome interviewing the gay community about their experiences in the apparently accepting environment.

It is here that we are introduced to Mike and his best friend Liam, who has convinced him to come to Broome’s Ladies Day. The light comedic play abruptly turns terribly dark when Mike is brutally attacked.

Liam attempts to assist his tormented friend, but Mike responds to attempts by becoming more and more volatile until he eventually snaps. “Someone should have warned me!” he yells. Life shouldn’t be a bowl of cherries, the now aggravated Liam responds. But Mike heartbreakingly refutes, “yeah it should”, and boy do you feel the broken. The play glimpses into the emotional damage of the victims of sexual assault, and its onward effect on those around them. For Liam is in love with his best friend at a time where Mike has never been further from him. Inopportunely admitting his feelings Liam desperately pleas “why wouldn’t someone be able to love you?” and be prepared to continue to feel that breaking…

“Not still.”

“Yes, still.”

“Not me.”

Wade Briggs delivers Mike in a truly outstanding performance. Mike is a beautiful unstable ticking time bomb of self-destruction and Wade keeps us all desperately attached. There is a monologue that he delivers towards the end of the play where he calls out for the playwright (again which playwright we are left uncertain) and dares her to write him. Write him and make him back down wanting to inflict the worst kind of pain on his attacker. The words are brutal and viciously rip into the theatre space. I hardly think a breath was taken in that space of time.

These hard-hitting monologues are delivered throughout the play, supplying unflinching message after message. Elan Zavelsky’s Rodney talks of the hierarchy of beauty and how one who falls feels there is nothing left worth living for, whether a superficial notion or not. Lucia Mastrantone gives us an insight into the background of the playwright Lorena and her determination of seeking justice for the victims of abuse, and the retelling is a vivd nightmare for any young girl. Both Elan and Lucia deliver these with such realness, it’s utterly affecting.

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My praise is never high enough for Matthew Backer. Here he plays Liam, a character who would appear to be our bright relief but who perhaps struggles the most. Unlike Mike, Liam does not openly voice his mind and so his struggle becomes more inward, a difficult feat for an actor to portray- outwardly projecting guarded inner emotions. Matt achieves this deftly. His most powerful monologue is sung, a rare moment of unguarded beauty in the play, as Liam soulbearingly voices his longing for Mike. Matt is able to guide us through Liam’s character as he develops, and thus guide us through navigating the winding territory of the play itself. For it is Liam who reveals the play.

And it is in this where Ladies Day is truly effecting. Its text is verbatim; it even has a playwright as a character interviewing the apparently same community. It all rings true. But then does it? And does it matter if it is true, or can the validity of its messages be true enough.

In an after show Q&A the cast and creative revealed that even they don’t know the point of veracity in its words. That it is almost like a thriller in its telling. But that at its core the play has such “heart”.

And of that, there is absolutely no uncertainty.

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Try ranking the truth of this outstanding new Australian work “Ladies Day” for yourself at Sydney’s Griffin Theatre until the 26th March. For more information visit www.griffintheatre.com.au

The reviewer attended the “Meet The Artists” performance night on the 16th February.