The Space @ Venue 45
24-29 August, 14.25
A penal colony in late 1780s Australia is not a merry place, but between floggings, hangings and madness comes an opportunity to celebrate what many consider to be humanity’s greatest achievement: art. In this case the form is theatre, performed by convicts, in a double-edged attempt to civilise and liberate.
Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark is the sympathetic director of the play within a play, and in this role Russ Crooks effortlessly delivers the outstanding performance of the production. With intense subtlety he embodies the paradox of repression in the new world, and scenes with female convict Mary Brenham (Jacqui Denson) are tense, dangerous and passionate. Denson does a wonderful job as Brenham, understated yet never losing control.
Unfortunately most of the rest of the cast are so loud and exaggerated that it seems as if at any moment they might break into song. The various dualisms that maintain the tension of the play must be negotiated with care and attention, and too often the characters slip into caricature, which though sometimes funny, ultimately serves to disengage the audience from the seriousness of the piece.
Two performances that do stand out from the clamour are Becky Harwood as Duckling and Richard Holyoak as Ketch. Though fraught with despair, they resist the hyperbole that plagues the other actors, and play their parts with sensitivity and grace. Otherwise, in a play that directly references the attention of the audience, it would be gratifying to see our patience respected.