Archive | January, 2017

Osama the Hero

27 Jan

This is a foreign play, played in accent and set in a UK housing estate.

Theatre has always sought street cred. Though it’s gloriously fun, there’s something childish about pretending to be someone else. To compensate, we choose stories that are confronting and characters that are dangerous.

This production values bold vocal performances, a furious energy, and the exploration of the socially gritty.

Director Richard Hilliar and his cast give it their all. It’s not pretty (and not meant to be) but it is fiery and thought-provoking.


Dennis Kelly’s script is about aspiration: wanting someone to look up to, wanting to do better, wanting safety.

Joshua McElroy plays Gary, a bewildered and isolated high school student, and finds both the humour and pathos in the character’s unsophisticated truth telling. Gary is asked to give a speech about ‘crimes against humanity’ and chooses to discuss Hello magazine, citing its celebrity nonsense and trashy materialism. Unsurprisingly, he’s not understood by his peers. This is exacerbated by his next speech, about Osama bin Laden. Gary admires bin Laden because (supposedly) he fought for what he believed – really fought, as against merely sent others to fight while eating in fancy restaurants.

This theme is taken up later, in a different key, by another teenager, Mandy (played intriguingly by Poppy Lynch as a tension between idiot child and sage.) Mandy once thought that somewhere there were some grownups in charge of everything, but she’s realized that no such abrogation of responsibility is possible.

In the meantime, the adults are exercising their authority in the only manner they know: violence. Gary has been tortured. His crime against humanity?  Allegedly blowing up a garage.

The residents of the estate are all damaged souls. Louise has a father who’s in prison for assaulting a pedophile, purportedly for her protection. Nicole Wineberg plays Louise with a fascinating mix of fire and vulnerability, allowing her to oscillate wildly between certainty and doubt; not so much a candle in the wind, as a blow torch in a hurricane. Louise’s brother, Francis, has been forced into acts of extreme cruelty, but has also had intimations of an alternative. Tel Benjamin plays him with power and insight. Recent arrival at the estate, Mark (Lynden Jones), is accused of being a pedophile himself. Jones nails cowardly and simpering (and considering the roles I’ve had the pleasure to see him in, including Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird, it’s a tribute to his versatility as a performer.)

Yes, Osama the Hero is a violent play. But it’s also a play about the sources of violence: culture, environment and, most of all, fear.

I began by suggesting this is a foreign play, but fear, that so urges us to erect borders, knows none itself.

Paul Gilchrist


Osama the Hero by Dennis Kelly

Kings Cross Theatre til 4 Feb

Tix and info here


The Testament of Mary

19 Jan

Here are a few things to keep in mind while reading this review:

  1. The performance I saw was a preview.
  2. I paid for my ticket.
  3. I don’t write reviews.

Despite whatever nonsense you may have learnt in Sunday School, the Original Sin was the writing up of a preview performance.

But I claim Immaculate status – because of the above point 3. I’m not going to do the whole judgement thing. Anyone who’s had anything to do with Christianity is probably over the whole judgement thing. It’s all a little more complex than that.

And this production begins with an image that suggests that very idea; a statue of Mary becomes a living, breathing woman. She then tells us her version of events.

Her life has been dominated by her son, and considering his fate, she is understandably traumatized. Alison Whyte gives an engrossing performance.


Image by Lisa Tomasetti

Jesus is not presented as some great religious teacher or the Redeemer (but nor is he just a naughty boy.) Whatever vision he may have had, it is not shared by his mother. The evangelists who harass Mary for details of Jesus’ life are keen to aggrandize him, but according to his mother’s testimony, so was the man himself. The play offers many myths for reassessment, but perhaps the most universal of these myths is that of a mother’s uncritical devotion. This Mary suffers from a spiritual and imaginative exhaustion.

Her narrative focuses on only a few events: the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the wedding in Canaan, the crucifixion. She denies the Resurrection.

However, playwright Colm Tóibín allows Mary’s story some intriguing anomalies, preventing it from descending into a commonplace materialist attack on Christian theology. For example, Jesus is capable of miracles (though their value is ambiguous.) And, regarding the fate of the man, Mary and Lazarus’ sister oddly have exactly the same dream.

It is this dream that the evangelists wish to twist into the story of the Resurrection.

Mary says “They want what happened to live forever. What is being written down, they say, will change the world.”

So, in summary, Tóibín has made up a story about the evangelists making up a story.

Most audiences will feel Tóibín’s story is more likely, but only the naive will think he’s claiming it’s true.

The actual Original Sin is to expect stories to be true. If they are to be judged at all, it’s not in that way.

Paul Gilchrist


The Testament of Mary
By Colm Tóibín

Sydney Theatre Company
Directed by Imara Savage
Performed by Alison Whyte

Wharf 1
13 Jan — 25 Feb

Tix and info here

Tom Ballard: Boundless Plains to Share

16 Jan

As a dramatist, I don’t particularly warm to stand-up comedians, especially really good ones.

Stand-up seems like tennis played with the net down. (Writing a play is using the net as a tightrope, and chainsaws for balance.)

Boundless Plains to Share is about how we’ve put a net up and then popped razor wire on top: it’s about Australian policy towards asylum seekers. The title refers to the second verse of our national anthem.

In addition to being really funny, Ballard presents a history of the policy, and offers a solution to the ongoing issue.

Moral conundrum: When writing up a stand-up show, can you be guilty of a SPOILER?

Since our society has had trouble seeing any problem with the indefinite incarceration of children, I won’t be waiting for an answer to that one.


Image by Richard Hedger


So here’s the SPOILER: Ballard has no solution. Instead, he intelligently, humanely and humorously suggests we can do better than we’re doing now. (For starters, we could release all children being held in detention.)

All dramatists (or, at least, really good ones) know that there never are complete solutions.

The whole messy unpleasant business that is Life only ceases to throw up conundrums when you’ve retired from the business.

The best we can do is to try to do better.

Fortunately, when you’re doing so badly*, that’s really easy.

Paul Gilchrist

*Currently 50 children are being held in detention, and over 2000 adults. None of them have committed a crime.


Tom Ballard: Boundless Plains to Share

Belvoir, 13 – 15 January

This production has now closed. I was not invited to write about this show.