Theatre review: SIRENS, Melbourne

A queer odyssey of the heart.

Does the intimacy we find while in the throes of first love take us toward, or away from our true selves? Eden grapples with this dilemma in SIRENS, the new play by Benjamin Nichol that reassembles the award-winning team that brought Kerosene to Melbourne audiences last year. 

SIRENS tells the coming-of-age story of Eden, a young man in his early 20s who is navigating the world of queer online hook-up culture in an unnamed coastal Australian city. With a beautiful mix of wit and fragility, Eden introduces us to a dynamic cast of characters who make up his little life. As the audience takes the role of confidant, Eden makes his way from his job at the care home, to the site of anonymous sexual encounters and then back home to his well-spoken mum and Hawthorn-obsessed dad. 

A chance encounter with David, a silver-haired drag artist with a rich baritone voice, begins in much the same way as his other fleeting encounters; however, when David kicks him out prematurely for being ‘simple, backward and basic’ Eden is dumbfounded and unexpectedly vulnerable.

Clearly, David has left more of an impression than even Eden would admit to himself and, as we are reintroduced to him following a heart-rendering karaoke performance, the forward trajectory of this story of first love begins to gather pace. Their generational divide subtly points to present nuances within the  queer community and illustrates how, in the throes of first love, we disassemble and reassemble ourselves in the image of our beloved. 

Benjamin Nichol proves to be a composite multihyphenate. The writing has a rich variety of tonal registers that keeps our ears pricked throughout and he demonstrates a sophistication in leading us through a variety of images, both  internal and external, within Eden’s developing landscape. It is clear that Nichol, whose parents are social workers, is captivated by the nuance of the human condition.

The  supporting characters are written with the complexities afforded to real human beings, which avoids the piece from falling into a fetishised presentation of low socioeconomic communities in Australia. His acting is superb and integrates the physical and psychological with expert artistry, a skill that feels much missed on the main stage. In a  lesser performer, the character transformations, often split-second, could feel contrived; however, Nichol generates a rich internal landscape for each member of his rogues’ gallery.

Read: Exhibition review: Shadow of the Moon

The design successfully transforms the small room at Trades Hall into a rich sensory experience. Connor Ross’ haunting score burrows throughout as if to remind us of the depth of Eden’s vulnerability, and continually draws us back to the undulation of water, a motif throughout the play. Harrie Hogan’s lighting impresses and, given the absence of  any physical set design, takes a central position within the storytelling as it moves us through myriad rooms, events and atmospheres. All this is thoughtfully curated by director Liv Satchell, whose visual dramaturgy and composition of space denote understated poetry.  

Despite a set piece within a chemsex party that felt a tad derivative and a final moment that, for all its heartfelt sincerity, wasn’t nearly as affecting as the more subtle moment of catharsis found in the previous scene, this queer odyssey of the heart leaves you feeling refreshingly uncynical as you ponder the moments of yearning from your own life. 

Festival Hub, Trades Hall
Writer and Performer: Benjamin Nichol 
Co-Creator: Izabella Yena 
Director: Liv Satchell 
Sound Designer: Connor Ross 
Lighting Designer: Harrie Hogan 
Producer: Julian Dibley-Hall 
Presented by VIMH 

Tickets: $20-$30

SIRENS will be performed until 23 October 2022 as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Harry Haynes is a theatre director and researcher. He grew up in Spain, was born in the UK and previously lived in London. He has been living and working in Melbourne since 2018. Harry is extremely passionate about nurturing vulnerability in emerging artists and storytellers. He works at Deakin University and is currently undertaking a PhD.