Bondi Dreaming

Gareth Beal

TAMARAMA ROCK SURFERS: Sam Atwell writes and directs this contemporary Australian masterpiece about mateship, rites of passage and the consequences of both.
Bondi Dreaming
After runs at the Newtown Theatre and Seymour Centre in 2008 and 2009, the new production of Sam Atwell’s Bondi Dreaming has finally made its way to the Bondi Pavilion. Third time’s the charm, as they say. If you’re planning to see it, and I strongly suggest you should, try to get down there a little early and take a look around. Bondi is what it’s all about, after all; that’s the dream that leads Frankie and Charlie and Macca to their Bali gaol cell.

The three men were caught trafficking drugs, and have been sentenced to death – there, I’ve said it. In my previous reviews of the show, I’ve tried to dance around this somewhat, not wanting to give it away when the play itself seemed to want to keep it as a surprise. In the current production, however, Tom Bannerman’s stunning, nightmarishly proportioned gaol set makes this relatively clear from the start, as does the inclusion of interviews with the three men’s family and friends, intermittently projected on the walls to either side of the stage. These short clips, which feature moving cameo performances from Kate Ritchie, Annie Byron and John McNeil, among others, provide the play with both greater narrative clarity and a heightened sense of realism. I can see why they’ve been added, and I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if I’m alone in thinking that these somewhat undermine two of the play’s great strengths: its dreamlike, slightly ambiguous quality and its claustrophobic, cell-bound continuity.

Either way, Bondi Dreaming is still very much about three men locked in the past, slowly losing themselves in their memories and dreams. Greg Hatton reprises his role of Charlie, and it has been fascinating watching his performance continue to evolve over the three different productions.

Charlie is the ‘older brother’ here, the one who holds everything together, and you get the sense that Hatton serves this same function in the cast. He strikes me as a generous actor, and as always he gives an energetic, emotive, utterly convincing performance (oh – and his apparent channelling of Burgess Meredith in the joke sequence towards the end is a scream!). Christian Willis is also excellent, and really captures the conflicting violence and vulnerability inherent in the character of Frankie. He seems quite haunted at times – by his cell mates, the ghosts of Bondi. As with his predecessors, Wayne Bradley’s performance as Macca at first seems somewhat out of step with the others; this is partly because Macca is out of step with Frankie and Charlie, but I suspect it’s also a result of the character not appearing until the play’s second half, which must be difficult. In any case, it doesn’t take Bradley very long to find his feet, and somehow he manages to make his Macca seem both shifty and very sympathetic. Really, this is a wonderful cast.

I confess that I’ve never been a great fan of writer-directors as a rule, but rules need their exceptions and Sam Atwell is it. He clearly enjoys the collaborative process, and his vision for the play manages to constantly change and surprise. I firmly believe that Bondi Dreaming is a contemporary Australian masterpiece, and as hard as it may be to imagine the play without Hatton and Bannerman, without Alon Ilsar’s vivid soundscapes or the tireless efforts of co-producer Nick Bolton (who have all worked on at least two of the show’s three runs), this dream is, ultimately, his.

A frequently recurring dream, it seems – and I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself reviewing the film version before too long. In the meantime, the current production runs until December 3, and Bondi Beach is waiting.

Rating: Four and a half stars

Dreamhouse Artists and Tamarama Rock Surfers present
Bondi Dreaming
Written and directed by Sam Atwell
Performed by Greg Hatton, Christian Willis and Wayne Bradley
Produced by Nick Bolton and Michelle Neil
Set design by Tom Bannerman
Lighting design by Nicholas Rayment
Sound design by Alon Ilsar
Sound and lighting technician: Tim Burns
Fight Choreography by Scott Witt

Bondi Pavilion Theatre, Bondi
November 7 – December 3

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Gareth Beal is a freelance writer, editor and creative writing teacher who has written for a range of online and print publications. He lives on the NSW Central Coast with his wife and two cats.