Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Whistleblower - Theatre Review

What: The Whistleblower
Where: Metanoia Theatre
When: 10 - 21 August
Written by: Andrew R. Kelly
Directed by: Robin Thomas
Performed by: Blake Barnard, Mitchel Edwards, Scott Leek, Raymond Martini, Paul Fergus Morris, Nick Rijs, Mish Wittrup, and Eliza Woods.
Sound by: Tom Backhaus


The Whistleblower is a new play written by Swan Hill playwright Andrew R. Kelly and has been produced by Bakers Dozen Theatre Company. It is being performed at Metanoia and it is exciting to see their studio space activated in this manner. Presented in the round with an astroturf floor my heart skipped a beat in anticipation of a lively and intriguing night of theatre.

What ensued, however, was a night of anger and frustration and a desperate wish to be able to walk out with dignity. I probably should have walked out anyway. This is not a comment on the company or the production. It was the play itself which offended me from the very first scene and never recovered from that position.

The Whistleblower is ostensibly about a disenfranchised middle aged man who is searching for his identity. The program notes call it 'a man on a journey of self-discovery'. To be honest, I don't care if Clive (played by Rijs) ever finds himself. He's better off not knowing.

The play opens with Clive abusing his wife - 'Iris the Virus' as his friend Merv (played by Morris) calls her - and blaming her for everything wrong in his life. The point at which I got really angry was 'the next morning' when Iris (played by Wittrup) actually apologised for upsetting him and takes all the blame!

It does not improve from there. Merv calls his wife 'the handbrake', and the only other woman in the play, Susie (played by Wood) is a domestic violence surviver who is now in a relationship with a psychopath. Whilst most of the vitriol is towards women, the play does manage to offend the LGBTI community and the disabled as well.

The premise is that the regional football umpire's association is a place for the poor disaffected white male priveleged middleclass man to go and be a man and reclaim himself. Clive wails the eternal lament that men have to live and work with women, and in doing that they lose their manhood. I have heard this refrain before, bemoaned by the Melbourne events social group The Gentlemen's Club who used it as an excuse to socialise and network to the exclusion of women. Boo hoo.

The play does have some interesting mechanisms. I really liked the actual game play scenes where the umpires are working on the field. Clever writing and clever direction. There is also the iconic Statler and Waldorf pair in the shape of Butch (Edwards) and Nugget (Barnard). Ostensibly the play is also about corruption and Clive is set up to be the moral champion - after spending most of the play being a complete tosser - who has the 'balls' to stand up to Sarj (Leek) and save the day. I admit by that time I wasn't buying what Kelly was selling.

I like Bakers Dozen as a company and I loved what they did with Comedy of Errors. One of the comments I made in my review back then was that I was deeply impressed with their level of understanding of their characters. I cannot say the same for this production. I am not convinced many of them truly dug into the text for meaning, although it was so repugnant I don't blame them for resisting.

Wittrup as Iris was probably the standout although her character is kind of pointless. This makes her performance even more remarkable I think. Leek was good as Sarj, Morris was surprisingly likeable as 'Merv the Perv', and Martini carried his role of clown well as Feliciano, the blind umpire.

The Whistleblower is a hard play to watch because noone is liked and noone is likeable. Even if you like AFL, the umpires are derided and called maggots more times than I can remember. I know it is a bit of a national sport to deride umpires, but I just couldn't find the good nature in any of it. It's just mean.

Sarj constantly asks 'Are you marking what I'm kicking' and I have to say no. He also says 'Umpires don't make mistakes, Clive. They make decisions.' Don't make this mistake. Save your money for Bakers Dozen's next production, The Removalists.

1 star.

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