THE WAY OUT - MELBOURNE
THE WAY OUT, Red Stitch Actors Theatre 22 August-24 September 2017. Photography by Teresa Nobile: above - Brigid Gallagher and Dion Mills; below - Rory Kelly and Brigid Gallacher; below again - Kevin Hofbauer and Dion Mills
All new plays no matter how much time and dramaturgy are spent on them are going to take time to settle into performance. It is also vital to Australian theatre that this time is taken on new Australian works, for that I acknowledge the Red Stitch Ink program – sourcing and doing the hard yards and assisting the development of this play – the theatre world is better for it.
The Way Out by Josephine Collins is a futuristic dystopian piece where the antagonism of country versus city, and state against state has spilt over into civil war and its aftermath: a one party state and menacing authoritarianism. Given the current condition of so many nations around the world, perhaps at its core the play is not that dystopian at all.
In a landscape somewhere in northern Victoria poisoned, polluted and denuded of trees by years of conflict, stands an old pub run by Helen (Brigid Gallacher) and her father Stewart (Dion Mills). They are eking out a living selling moonshine provided by neighbour and friend Claire (Olga Makeeva). They are just holding onto life, a poor living and exhausted from the struggle.
Helen – who wants more – has gone against the authorities and detected “good” soil and seeds in an outlying area and has planted a tomato. If detected this will be treated as treason and she already knows the consequences. Her mother railed against those same authorities and was strung up at Flinders Street Station for all to see and heed. You don’t go against the authorities, they own you.
They are preparing for a visit from the government inspector (Rory Kelly), which means keeping quiet and acquiescing. To make matters worse Claire unexpectedly arrives with a new and improved shipment of moonshine. Claire and Stewart who fought in the civil war, seem to know more about the conflict than they let on – they hold the secrets of the past, even from Helen.
It’s not only moonshine that keeps them going and nervous: there is always bribery and a black marketeer and double agent Harry (Sahil Saluja) who is willing to sell anyone or anything for survival.
Local policeman Ryan (Kevin Hofbauer) is a comrade of Helen’s, they grew up together but as the play goes on, his own drive for survival becomes as animalistic as the others. Helen is alone in her ideals and hopes.
The set (Charlotte Lane) is all corrugated iron, a run-down building in a dusty town, with overtones of seemingly futuristic gadgets, and gas masks hanging at the door – for going outside. It works. Lane is also responsible for the costumes: western crossed with another world. The government inspector has a prosthetic forearm that knows all and feeds back to those in power. The lighting (Claire Springett) adds to the sense of the surreal with flashing hazard lights beyond the windows, as does Daniel Nixon’s music and atmospheric soundscape: sirens, and a peremptory PA system at which everyone stops and turns their attention to listen to the power that runs their lives. It is apparently better to do that than end up in the “camps”.
While clearly a first play, Collins’ script is worth the effort that has been put into it and Penny Harpham has taken it and shaped it and led the actors to discover their places in this daunting future.
Gallacher is the lynch pin for The Way Out and she does this well. Indeed, all the actors effectively give the play their all. Kelly has the ability to be in both worlds and is very funny as the ‘wanna’ be councillor in the upcoming elections. Saluja is terrific as the “I know I shouldn’t like or trust you!”, foot in both camps kinda guy. Hofbauer is engaging and the Red Stitch stalwarts Makeeva and Mills are as strong as always. And I am sure it will get stronger as the season progresses.
Definitely worth a trip to the dark side.