In this period of YouTube celebrities, reality TV starlets and Kardashians, it can be challenging to relate to theatrical characters. Audiences are regularly plated-up a plethora of classics, complete with over-the-top performances and melodious, fruity language contrasted against edgy, overly dark interpretations of long-lost fables. Presented on stark stages that we struggle to comprehend (but laud nonetheless). Wouldn’t it be nice to see something closer to our own reality?
Thankfully, this is what Dirty People by Charlie Falkner delivers. Set in a nameless Sydney bar in a parallel universe where camera phones are soon to be banned, Dirty People is a cheeky comedy about the ‘selfie-generation’. A young woman takes a seat in the bar, pulling out her phone. She is joined by a young man. The play ensues. Unfortunately it is difficult to say much more about the plot because what makes Dirty People so engaging is the slow reveal. Best just to say you won’t be bored, and you’ll definitely laugh out loud.
Falkner’s characters are very well drawn, and each has their own distinct voice, easily recognisable but falling thankfully short of caricature. The script is pacy, sharp and very, very funny. Perhaps the only fault comes towards the end, where Falkner tries a little too hard to bring a moral to the story. The character’s monologue is a little laboured and sits at odds with the speed of the rest of the dialogue. But ultimately this is a clever new work that will hopefully receive the attention it deserves.
Bringing Dirty People to the Depot Theatre stage are a company of captivating and committed young actors. This is more than just clever casting; from their mannerisms to tone of voice, you are convinced these people are the real deal.
Perhaps in the case of the character of James this is no accident, as he is played by the author, Falkner. However, there is something very likeable about his fidgety portrayal of a young man who is constantly at a loss as to his purpose. His resemblance to the late Heath Ledger aside, Falkner is utterly watchable and his timing is excellent.
Charlotte Devenport is Lucy, an aloof bitch who has absolutely no problem if you don’t like her – in fact, she seems to revel in it. Charlotte’s face tells the story here – flat and un-emotive in a deliberate way. Her performance contrasts delightfully against Falkner’s almost frenetic style.
Rex, the wannabe-yuppie with anger management issues, is played with control by Sam Devenport. He is a ticking time bomb, and his explosions are bodily and hilarious. Playing his girlfriend, Tina, is Zoe Jensen. A lesser performer could be tripped up by this character, jumping superficially onto the childish dialogue to deliver us a simple, ditzy blonde. But Jensen has done her homework and her interpretation is nuanced – beneath the curls and the bling and the “Babe!”s is a feminist force to be reckoned with.
Rounding out the cast is Sam Delich as Fred, the bartender (and later Ted). Beginning his performance with just a little too much enthusiasm, Delich soon settles into the rhythms of the 21st century little Aussie battler. His accent and intonation are well practiced, if occasionally a bit hammy, but in context this is not really an issue. Again, his mannerisms are effective and true-to-life.
Director Michael Abercromby has embraced the spirit of the play. He demonstrates a clear understanding of each of the characters and the world they inhabit, extracting excellent performances from the whole cast. He handles the logistically challenging script with ease, and with thanks to Thomas Moore’s sound design gives us well-timed phone calls and suitably muffled voices from another room.
Abercromby shows an aptitude for comedic timing and has not shied away from the physical elements of comedy. While not quite slapstick, the actors literally throw themselves into the gags. Watch out for the chair which takes a starring role in the second act!
The set is dressed well – I expect I’ve probably been in a bar just like this one in the last week – and the restrained use of furniture (there is just one table and two chairs in the centre of the stage) gives the actors plenty of room to move. Lighting is simple but atmospheric.
This is a deliciously funny play brought to life by a gifted cast and keen-eyed director. At just 75 minutes with no interval it’s definitely worth tearing yourself away from MTV for!
The reviewer attended opening night on 5 May. Photographs: Tom Cramond
Dirty People is playing for a very limited time at The Depot Theatre until 8 May. For more information or to book tickets, visit: http://thedepottheatre.com/dirty-people