'Crime Scenes' - showing at The Fusebox Theatre - is a series of snapshots, forensic photographs, or maybe an autopsy of our relationship to that history.
Crime Scenes: The Fusebox Theatre
Now, here’s a terrific concept: a collection of four 30-minute plays exploring Australia’s more recent criminal history. Oh, we’re accustomed to thinking of ourselves as ‘convicts’ in the comfortably remote context of our colonial past, but what about forty years ago, or twenty, or last week? Crime Scenes is a series of snapshots, forensic photographs, or maybe an autopsy of our relationship to that history. But, like any good coroner, let’s start by examining each of the parts of this particular corpus:
First up is ‘Housebound’, the story of a young couple who move into the house in Willagee, Perth, where David and Catherine Birnie raped and murdered four women in 1986. The couple quickly find themselves haunted by ghosts of the past, curiosity becoming obsession and even a kind of possession, a blurring of fantasy and reality. It’s a fascinating idea, though the play arguably doesn’t focus enough on the young wife, played by Jessica Saras, when really it is her story. Having said that, Jonathan Lane and Jess Norman give chilling performances as the Birnies, and Donna Brooks as their victim is harrowing to watch. Images of the gradually deteriorating house likewise cast an ominous shadow of physical and spiritual decay.
‘The Blood on Helmut Lange’ is based on events which led in 1967 to the hanging of Ronald Ryan, the last man executed in Australia. As the title suggests, however, the focus of the play is really Lange, the prison guard who held the key to Ryan’s fate. As the title character, Scott Grimley delivers an engrossing portrait of a compassionate but ultimately cowardly man, who is wracked with guilt for his part in both Ryan’s execution and the final days of World War II. Vanessa Coffey, Leof Kingsford-Smith and Lynden Jones provide strong support, and Brendan Miles is a convincing, sympathetic Ryan. It’s a ‘big’ story, at times struggling to squeeze itself into its 30-minute running time, but in its handling of the grey areas of morality, it’s a striking piece of theatre.
‘Morning Tea at the Carousel Cabaret’ begins the second half of the evening, delving into organised crime, and specifically the disappearance of journalist/publisher Juanita Smith from Kings Cross in 1975. Tonally, this one hits a slightly discordant note in the context of the rest, playing for the most part as a comedy, though the audience on opening night, no doubt less single-mindedly morbid than myself, clearly appreciated its lighter approach. Speaking of crimes, Sophie Haylen as Loretta stole every scene she was in, in an act of theatrical larceny matched only by Shane Pascoe’s cabaret number as Phyllis. When things take a dramatic, disturbingly violent turn towards the end, there were more than a few audible gasps from the unsuspecting audience…
For me, however, the highlight of the evening was unquestionably ‘Shots’, reuniting director Sam Atwell and actor/producer Nick Bolton with Toby Levins and Greg Hatton, the cast of last year’s brilliant Bondi Dreaming (heading to the Seymour Centre for its second run this September – don’t miss it). Bolton’s portrayal of a frustrated middle-class family man, obsessed with time and gun-related massacres, is always compelling, at times funny but more often frightening, while Levins brings a searing intensity to his role as the other’s dark mirror-image, eliciting sympathy from the audience even as he convinces us that we are all, personally, the focus of his rage. Hatton and Catherine Hollyman play several supporting roles, populating this symbolically monochrome world with rich shades of colour. Atwell’s direction is similarly dynamic, as is Carly Nugent’s impressive script, which juggles contrasts and parallels – middle/working class, bourbon/coffee, quiet/loud – to remind us that behind the apparently bland, harmless faces we encounter every morning, at the train station, the coffee stand, in our bathroom mirror, lurks a potential killer.
And our final coroner’s report? Certainly, some parts of Crime Scenes are stronger than others, though that’s likely to be the case with this sort of project, and for the variety of talent and storytelling on display, I definitely recommend it. As for the time and cause of death, maybe I should have taken a pulse…. Thanks to the hard work and imagination of groups like Actors Anonymous in putting on a show like this one, theatre in Sydney is very much alive and well.
Crime Scenes: The Fusebox Theatre
Housebound by: Iain Triffitt and Brett Danalake
The Blood on Helmut Lange by: Gerry Greenland
Morning Tea at the Carousel Cabaret by: Stephen Carnell
Shots by: Carly Nugent
Presented by: Actors Anonymous
Venue: The Fusebox Theatre @ The Factory, 105 Victoria Road, Marrickville
Season: 27 May – 20 June
Times: Tuesday – Saturday 8pm, Saturday 6, 13 and 20 @ 3pm
Bookings: 02 9550 3666 or online at the Factory Theatre website
For more info: Visit the Actors Anonymous website