SPENCER – MELBOURNE
SPENCER – Lab Kelpie in the loft, Chapel off Chapel, 11-28 May 2017. Photography by Pier Carthew; above Jane Clifton and Roger Oakley; below - the company
Lab Kelpie’s latest project is Spencer by Katy Warner (2016 Green Room Award nominee for A Prudent Man).
In her new play, Warner has penned the Australian vernacular to an F…, and yes, it is part of our language more oft than not and this play is full of it.
A play about family, time and place with Aussie Rules football as the glue. Now that might sound a bit trite, but trite and boring it isn’t.
Like most family dynamics we are a product of our environment and there is usually a disconnect at some time with siblings and parents and when you come together, that disconnect can be heightened. It is also hard when the youngest is deemed the one with the brightest future and the one Marilyn (mum) is living her life through.
Big brother Ben (Lyall Brooks) who by his age ought to be out in the world, is still living at home. Suitably attired in his footy shorts, his playing days long gone, he’s still recalling his story of one good kick to his kid brother Scott (Jamieson Caldwell) who is fit and plays professionally.
Enter Marilyn (Jane Clifton) all a-fluster in a frock that didn’t need any lighting, telling the boys to stop f…ing swearing and call me “mum”. The excitement of being about to meet her grandson is palpable – everyone needs to “get off their arses” and help; “like picking up the dog shit for a start”. Daughter Jules (Fiona Harris) arrives to sibling denigration and doesn’t get much sympathy from Marilyn when she asks if she can move back home – dysfunctional, much? Oh yes. And with that comes pathos. There were times during the show when the audience was audibly aghast, then laughing hysterically.
We learn that this will also be the first time Scott has introduced his son Spencer to his grandmother. It turns out he can’t remember the girl he had slept with and slagged her off as a slut, dumped her, moved on and continued playing footy protected by “the club”. In his retelling of this it’s clear that he is tormented. He is not coping. But all anyone cares about is that he is the one who made it – and in their beloved footy – that he’s not coping goes unseen.
If this isn’t enough, a knock on the door isn’t the baby Spencer’s arrival, it’s the missing in action dad, Ian (Roger Oakley) who walked out sixteen years earlier (or was he pushed?). Why is he there – apparently invited to meet his grandson? When they are all out of the room he sets up camp, ostensibly moving back into the marital home in a very funny scene. Then there’s the added dynamic of his children calling him on his behaviour as an absent father. The list of unfulfilled childhood wishes, recounted to her father by Jules, pulls at the heart strings between the laughs. Meanhile, the torment for Scott is that he doesn’t want to be like his father.
It is mayhem and madness; jocks, socks, snot and ugg boots. What keeps you in there is what is underlying it all, and that is: good writing.
The actors all revel in their roles. Oakley and Clifton using their well- honed talent to the Nth degree. Brooks relishes the opportunity to be the kid who never grew up. Harris starts slowly but grabs hold when you least expect it. Caldwell, sometimes overshadowed by the others, has a subliminal effect which stays with you long after the show has ended.
The set and lighting (Rob Sowinski, Bryn Cullen) indicates well the place and time – the use of the ironing board as a table with the plastic cloth tells it all. There are lots of nuances in the play and director Sharon Davis has framed it well enough for us to laugh at them but to also understand them.
I’m not sure about the ending, but like all new work, no doubt it will have many incarnations.
Lab Kelpie is a theatre company dedicated to the production of new work by Australian playwrights. They commission, develop, present and tour and they should be commended for their commitment.