One Hour No Oil

30 Oct

One hundred minutes no intermission. Now, that’s a trigger warning. It triggered me – but my fears were misplaced. This play by Kenneth Moraleda and Jordan Shea is easy viewing.

It did, however, lead to much lengthier post-show musings. But more of that later.

John Gomez Goodway plays Bhing, a Filipino migrant working as a masseur in a town near the Western Australian mining fields. He has magic hands. He has a gift which verges on the supernatural; he can see physical pain in others. He is an inheritor of a grand tradition. Bhing has a new client, Scott, played by Shaw Cameron, a “skip”, a boiler maker from one of the mines. Scott is a “caveman”, desperate to ease the pain in his damaged shoulder, but uncertain about such close physical contact with a man, especially an Asian man.

We witness their massage sessions. Moraleda and Shea’s decision to privilege physicality is unexpectedly intellectually stimulating, and an exciting theatrical invitation. Director Moraleda and movement director Lauren Nalty effectively stylise the massage sessions – there’s no lying face down on a table – there’s a smooth flowing beauty.

Sometimes Bhing and Scott speak to each other, but often they express their thoughts and feelings in a stream of consciousness that’s sometimes directed at us, and sometimes not. Their relationship gradually changes. The marketing implies the transcending of hate…. but that’s marketing; the play offers something darker than that.

The performances are captivating, bravely participating in the creation of two rather unlikeable characters. (After beginning the show with the longest and most combative acknowledgement of country I’ve heard for a while, we were presented with two non-indigenous characters clearly living off the proceeds of that country. Similarly, there’s a moment when one of the characters – vagueness due to spoiler rule – has a clear duty of care but is conflicted about fulfilling it because he really wants to attend an interview with a bureaucracy so he can prove he has read their documentation about duty of care.) But don’t get the impression we’re being asked to watch two entitled bores; the writers provide plenty of moments of humour and charm which the performers play wonderfully.

The two actors share the space with musician Alec Steedman, who creates fun sound effects, and also performs two amusing cameos.

Two handers are notoriously difficult. How do you get the balance right between the characters? Do you try for balance at all? In this play, Bhing is assumed to be vastly superior to Scott. So what responsibilities, if any, might this incur?  Any answer to that is dependent on the answer to this: How does a relationship between two specific individuals – and there’s a lot of stage time to make them quite specific – evoke something wider to an audience?

The spoiler rule makes my point difficult to make, but it is tempting to read this play as a type of parable, or maybe even fable. If so, it’s moral is this: New comers owe you nothing. It’s just a “business arrangement”. They don’t like you, and maybe you should just die, so they can leave their past behind in the inevitability of their rise to middle class status. But don’t blame them, because you’ve done it yourself, to those who came before.

It’s an easy evening of theatre, written and performed with a gentle warmth that belies a deeper darkness. You’ve got to be happy with that.

Paul Gilchrist

One Hour No Oil by Kenneth Moraleda and Jordan Shea

Kings Cross Theatre until 5 Nov

kingsxtheatre.com

Image by Clare Hawley

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