By Nick Pilgrim
In thirteen years of reviewing, I have experienced a solid array of pieces which deep dive into important social and community issues.
Standout examples include:
- Australia’s Escalating Homeless Crisis (Trash Goes Down The River)
- Spousal Euthanasia (Everyman And His Dog)
- Teenage Online Porn Addiction (Gonzo)
- Workplace Bullying (Unsolicited Male)
Within the confines of a safe performance space, the main thrust of such works is often twofold. These journeys are not only designed to entertain and enlighten viewers, but to increase public awareness and generate informed post-show discussion at the same time.
The Culture is a chamber drama with the abovementioned goals clearly in mind. Running at 90 minutes in length, this dynamic two-hander has a great deal to unpack.
Best friends since high school, Will (Mina Asfour) and Katie (Laura Jackson) are inseparable. Sharing a flat together, the pair are as close as any gay male / straight female coupling could get. They finish each other’s sentences, binge on Cherry Ripe chocolate bars, and wax lyrical about their idols Jacinta Ardern, Hannah Gadsby, and Julia ‘Jools’ Gillard.
This enthusiasm for forthright role models and gender empowerment has in fact blossomed into a popular podcast they operate from home called ‘Don’t Get Us Started’.
However, the friends’ cozy bubble is tested by a workplace promotional launch Katie begs Will to attend with her. Despite their special bond, each secretly yearns for the perfect mate. It is hoped this event could provide a possible pathway to their individual desires.
Much to Will’s surprise and dismay, Katie quickly becomes involved with another man. He also raises several behavioural concerns about her new partner which are immediately shut down. Meanwhile, Will starts to chat online with a mysterious admirer, but feels slightly embarrassed for pursuing it.
When these recent factors threaten to drive a wedge between the friends, the pair start to question what brought them together in the first place.
Without giving away the story’s shocking reveal placed late in the show, The Culture presents viewers with interesting food for thought. What happens when a personal crusade hits home, and you risk becoming another silent statistic?
Suzie Miller explored this very dilemma in her one-woman powerhouse, Prima Facie. (To summarise, its plot follows a criminal defense barrister whose view of the legal system is challenged after she is sexually assaulted.) Like Miller’s monologue, The Culture appears to be created with a very specific demographic in mind. It also ponders the question, “Who are we and where do we truly stand?”
That author, Laura Jackson is prepared to show her protagonists as flawed, judgmental, petty, impulsive, cliquey, yet driven, passionate and stoic in equal measure, gives the story real bite. Given permission to reveal their true selves when the going gets tough, adds unexpected dimension to a relatable rite of passage. It must be said both Jackson and Asfour are fearless in communicating this element.
Like Muriel’s Wedding – The Musical or Dear Evan Hansen before it, investigating the perks and pitfalls of social media is one of The Culture’s biggest strengths. Brandon Wong’s smart multimedia design (using rear screen projection) plays a key role in building and maintaining the show’s dramatic tension. His work, in tandem with mood lighting (Capri Harris) and sound (Charlotte Leamon) adds to the powerful narrative. Solid stage management from Natalie Low always keeps proceedings on track.
Firm direction from Bethany Caputo and focused dramaturgy from Catherine Fargher support Jackson’s vision one hundred percent. The evolution of Katie and Will, their personal and professional growth, will align with many a water cooler conversation.
After successful seasons Off-Broadway in New York City and interstate, The Culture plays at Theatreworks’ Explosives Factory for a strictly limited season until Saturday 17 June.
Image: Aden Meser