Originally opening in the summer, Tommy Murphy’s Strangers in Between has been revived at The King’s Head Theatre to begin their 2017 season. This is simply a warm, witty tragedy that explores aspects of life as a homosexual in Australia. Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s restraint allows the characters to breathe, boosted by some fine performances from a returning cast.
We follow Shane, a young teenager struggling with his sexuality; one who has fled from his rural town to move to the city of Sydney. He has abandoned his family and the brother who attacked him. Setting out to start again, he simply begins in a supermarket working the till. Along the way, he attempts to replace his family with those who can help him settle into his new life. This comes people who become his community in the world he must learn quickly about – his on/off lover Will, and the flamboyant parental figure Peter.
Spreadbury-Maher, also Artistic Director of The King’s Head, keeps things simple in an effective production that places the emphasis squarely on the characters. This is the right choice, alongside Murphy’s easy flowing, beautifully pitched dialogue. The only real stylistic touches lie in the transitions, cuts of noise, and music transporting us from place to place. For the most part this works, but at times a punchy noise followed by an at times flat soundtrack can clash tonally with previous scenes, and those that are to come. Becky-Dee Trevernen’s multi-purpose design fills the wall and floor with tiles, and combines with a strong lighting design to show the heat and modernity of the Aussie city.
The play is gloriously performed by an immensely talented cast who work together effortlessly. Roly Botha shines as Shane, jittering his way through life, both endearingly and frustratingly. There is a wonderfully written internal conflict throughout his story: he is fearful, hateful of the world around him, but instantly trustworthy of anyone who shows kindness. Stephen Connery-Brown’s credible Peter nears stereotypical but quickly moves to a funny, big-hearted performance, stealing scenes in a single moment. Dan Hunter creates nicely subtle differences in his two parts, that of the lover and the brother.
It is a shame that there are a couple of issues in this play: a brother conflict that resolves itself too quickly, and a couple of losses that go almost unregistered. But this is an affecting look at life as a homosexual in the city, alongside the idea of families and community. It examines the roles people may fulfil in our lives, whether it be parental or brotherly, and the way these may be replaced and occupied by surrogates as we leave home. Jobs, illnesses, troubles that we go through can fade in comparison to genuine moments of connection with the people around us. This may be a slightly doe-eyed look at the world but it is brought to refreshing life in this well-realised performance.
Strangers in Between is playing The King’s Head Theatre until 04/02/16. For more information and tickets, see The King’s Head Theatre website.
Photo by Andreas Grieger