With a title like Violent Extremism and Other Adult Party Games you can’t help but expect a few controversial laughs. But this new play by Sydney-based writer Richie Black is a cut above and a genuinely funny piece of work. Supported by a very good cast and strong production values, this is yet another triumph for the 2017 Depot Theatre season.
The play opens with actor/reality TV star, Robert Kelly, arriving at the home of Warwick Lee, where he expects to find a party, some coke and an internet star. What he finds, to his disappointment, is that the party is an emerging political party and the internet star is a gawkish, acne-covered man-child with the intention of recruiting Robert to be the face of his new liberal movement. But at least there’s coke… so Robert stays to hear Warwick out.
Warwick believes staunchly that Australia must be taken back to its Colonial roots, and that Robert is the man to lead the charge. Robert tries to explain he is merely an actor and wants out, but before he can leave he is interrupted by Warwick’s energetic and attractive mother.
Over the course of the morning, Robert is driven to leave Warwick’s granny flat several times: first, when he learns Warwick may be a neo-Nazi, then when Warwick appears to be gay, then when the homosexuality is revealed as a ruse and Warwick is indeed a Nazi, when his reality TV wife arrives, when his reality TV wife appears to be excited by the prospect of joining Warwick’s party… and it goes on! In fact, Robert displays an amazing inability to just get the hell outta Dodge, no matter how bad things get. And believe me, it gets pretty bad.
Richie Black’s play is strangely relatable, even despite the strange invisible barrier around the granny flat that prevents people from leaving when they should. This is witty, contemporary Australian writing that draws you in and makes you laugh out loud. The characters are well crafted, the subject matter topical, and the dialogue mostly natural; there are probably one too many multi-syllable words for the average audience to feel completely comfortable. That said, full marks to anyone who can find a way to put verisimilitude into a sentence!
The fact that the story seems to escalate quickly into a Shakespearean tragedy but still manages to keep up the laughs is impressive in itself. But that Black has taken a subject like domestic terrorism and flipped it on its head, while poking fun at the lack of authenticity in the media (social or otherwise), shows that he has a real talent for black comedy.
Also displaying an aptitude for the comedic arts is Thomas Pidd, who plays the role of reality ‘star’ Robert Kelly. Pidd is wonderfully charismatic. His face is an open book and he is perfectly cast as someone who knows how to turn on the charm to get what he wants. There is a natural ease to his sometimes stammering delivery, and he plays this part at just the right level.
His wife, Tamara, is played equally convincingly by Eleanor Stankiewicz. Poised and professional on the surface, there is a seriously crazy streak inside Tamara that Stankiewicz handles with genuine subtly. She is great at the physical comedy the part requires too.
As Warwick Jnr, Thomas G Burt is a bit like a real-life version of the Simpson’s Milhouse. He is geeky and awkward, but strangely practised at setting up lines. Burt brings a nervous energy to the part, which suits the role to a tee.
Jodine Muir is Bernadette, Warwick’s energetic mother. She plays fan girl very well, and is happy to be distracted from reality by a reality TV star in her own home.
Dave Kirkham (Warwick Snr) is every inch the retired AM-radio shock jock (complete with golden microphone). Like Bernadette, Warwick Snr seems completely oblivious to all that’s going on, a task well-managed by Kirkham.
Rounding out the cast is Julia Christensen (Artemis) who arrives to clean the flat. Her intense energy is a fraction too heightened to be truly believable but she is certainly entertaining.
The actors are given plenty of room to move on designer Irma Calabrese’s set, which is simple but dressed very well. The devil is in the details, from the man-sized tissues crumpled on the floor around Warwick’s computer desk to the clothes hanging in the wardrobe (and lying all over the floor) – you can almost smell the man musk!
Director Michael Campbell has let the play speak for itself, with strong casting choices and a straight-bat approach to the other production elements. It means there’s nothing unusual or clever about the production but with writing of this quality it’s not really warranted. The comedy is pitched at just the right pace, and I dare you not to sing along to the soundtrack while you wait for the action to start!
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Aint It So Theatre Co.’s Violent Extremism and Other Adult Party Games is playing at Marrickville’s The Depot Theatre until 25 November. For tickets go here.
Photo credit: Josh Mawer