Australian playwright Tommy Murphy’s 2005 play Strangers in Between has its UK premiere at the King’s Head Theatre, and under Adam Spreadbury-Maher’s direction it is a great success. A funny, moving and surprising account of what it’s like to be gay in modern Australia, this production is hugely thought-provoking and is not one to be missed.
It tells the story of nervy sixteen-year-old Shane, who finds himself in Sydney after running away from home. Not knowing wear to buy coat hangers or how to do laundry, Shane befriends the older Will and Peter who help guide him on his path to adulthood. As the story unfolds, we learn what has brought Shane to Sydney, and how he must come to terms with his past in order to be at peace in the future.
Tommy Murphy’s script is brilliant: it’s Miller-esque in its seemingly banal conversations and relative lack of action, but it is this that allows for well-rounded and believable characters. The plot is unpredictable and I found myself constantly interested to see where Murphy would take the story next. It is surprisingly funny with its awkward moments of human interaction, but equally the interactions between characters can also be very moving. The cast deliver Murphy’s one-line gags with perfect comic timing. The script, while not overtly political, is insightful in its depiction of LGBTQ+ life in modern Australia. Some of the jokes and cultural references perhaps don’t work so well for an audience outside Australia or the male gay community, but generally I think it can be appreciated by all.
It is heartwarming to see the trajectory Shane makes throughout the play, really coming into his own in the second half, and Roly Botha plays the role commendably. He is sometimes so awkward that it makes you cringe yet also feel endeared to him, but he is equally capable in the emotion-fuelled scenes that come later in the play. Despite being British, his Australian accent is consistently good and the difference is undetectable in parlance with Dan Hunter and Stephen Connery-Brown, who are both actually Australian. I found the character of Peter (played by Connery-Brown) to be slightly stereotypical at the beginning, but as his relationship with Shane develops his role becomes more nuanced and believable. Hunter, who plays both Shane’s love interest Will and brother Ben, really shows his versatility as an actor, particularly when playing the entirely different role of Ben in the second half. The camaraderie between all of the actors is great, and what makes the scenes and conversations appear so natural.
Strangers in Between is certainly not the typical LGBTQ+ story, and Murphy’s script is absolutely done justice by the beautiful performances given in this production. It finishes abruptly, but with a sense of hope. The play’s message is heartwarming and life-affirming: by surrounding ourselves by people who care for us, whether they are friends or blood relatives, we can all make a life for ourselves in which we are happy and able to be fully ourselves.
Strangers in Between is playing at the King’s Head Theatre until 16 July. For more information and tickets, see the King’s Head Theatre website. Photo: Andreas Grieger