By Darby Turnbull
The rare occasion when the title of a play doubles as a vocal warm up tongue twister. In one of Gavin Roach’s many Fringe offerings this year, lucky audiences are being treated to the Victorian Premiere of Irish playwright, John O’Donovan’s gem of a two hander.
Casey (Grant Young) and Mikey (Lachlan Blair) are both outsiders in their small, rural Irish town both within the community and their own families. In this iteration, Casey is African American, in previous productions he’s been Afro-British from London, feeling the weight of racist micro aggressions, being closeted and navigating his abusive home. Mikey is an openly gay petty criminal and self-described thug days away from being incarcerated for putting one of his peers in an induced coma. For the duration of the play they are taking refuge on the roof of Casey’s house after robbing a local shop, avoiding the authorities, neighbours and the depth of their feelings for each other. Fortunately (pending perspective) they have a picnic of booze, cocaine, sweets and a wad of money lifted from Casey’s abusive step-father.
O’Donovan’s text defies romanticism to create very grounded and specific love story, the likes we don’t often get to see. Few writers working today have the opportunity to write and present work about rural, working class queerness with the specificity and nuance that he achieves. The taut, tense prose avoids blatant exposition instead letting the specifics of their relationship and situations to arise organically from the text; filling the play with detailed local references and raw emotional revelations that seamlessly inform each man’s motivations and chemistry. He shows special affinity for making the personal political; class division, the shifting nature of homophobia in the 21st century and youth criminal justice are all pervasive but at no point does the play need to stop to announce their importance.
Christian Cavallo’s passion and dedication to the text is palpable (disclosure, I know him socially) and as with every other production I’ve seen, he has an immense affinity for emotionally detailed, finessed presentations that appear sparse but contain multitudes. It’s a naturalistic, dialogue focused work but Cavallo adds some well timed moments of heightened sound effects and movements that offer some necessary bursts of energy for both the audience and actors. Spencer Herds’ lighting is rich and full of atmosphere, providing some absolutely gorgeous images.
Casey Harper-Wood’s set; a constructed roof top within the Meat Market stables is a rich addition that really adds to the sense of danger, this is the kind of play that would be just as powerful on a bare stage but there is a real sense of tension watching the actors navigate the unstable terrain, also the sense of fun for an audience getting to enjoy a cool piece of design. The costumes show subtle yet deeply revealing distinctions in class, resources and attitudes; the pairs shoes tell you everything you need to know from the outset; Casey wears clean, semi new white trainers and Mikey wears tatted sliders with socks. Wearing sliders running from a robbery and climbing a house is akin to performing both tasks in kitten heels but it works.
Such a dense, rich text is a huge challenge for any actor; creating a sense of history, identity with the voice and body within a specific moment of time and a person’s evolution within a span of 75 minutes whilst keeping the audience engaged requires a huge amount of discipline, vocal/physical stamina, commitment to craft and engagement with the material. The amount of rehearsal time, resources and time with the text can all contribute to a level of performance and for the most part Lachlan Blair and Grant Young rise to these challenges admirably.
Blair has the much more dynamic part, Mikey is brutal, tender, wounded, bitter and deeply charismatic. He embodies someone who can simultaneously be the life of the party and believably smash your face in. As I said before it’s so rare to see a gay character like this; a street smart, vulnerably tough young man who will physically fight back against homophobia and pay the price for it. He also displays a significant amount of homophobia towards other queer people who he perceives as being passive or soft through affluence or gender non-conformity. He has some piercing monologues about being left behind and the mendacity of his friends and lovers who let him fight for them and the homophobic abusers who hide in plain sight and can easily scape goat an abrasive, rough around the edges street thug (as described within the play). Blair creates a laudable combination of wounded bravado, petty derision and ultimate nobility that will surely be one of the performance highlights of the fringe season.
Grant Young’s Casey by necessity of the character dynamics can’t shine so bright, but must match his co- stars magnetism for the tension and rhythm of the text to be maintained. For a myriad of reasons, he’s not quite there yet. He’s imbued with an immense amount of charm and sensitivity as a performer, as demonstrated in his fantastic performance in Passing Strange in the same space. These hold him in good stead as Casey, showing just why Mikey would be attracted to him, but at this first performance it was evident he was still trying to find the character. Casey’s is a neglected and abused kid with very violent stakes for his queerness being revealed and Young is still in the process of being able to display the survival instincts that inform Casey’s arc. There are moments this really works, when it comes to highlighting Casey’s passivity and he makes a commendable shift to showing his growth to assertiveness at great personal cost, but there’s some essential subtext that I’m sure will develop as the season progresses.
The Fringe season, by virtue provides opportunity for a diverse array of performances and artists in various stages of development and one thing I thoroughly enjoy is that they can exist alongside each other. This performance is of a professional standard (whatever that means), but still maintains an essential rawness and is being facilitated by creatives with a certain level of training and refined skills and resources and opportunities between them. Those who enjoy narrative, dialogue and actor driven theatre presented with a certain level of polish will relish seeing this wonderful adaption of an overseas play.