Where: The Owl and Cat Theatre
When: 28 November - 16 December
Written by: Thomas Ian Doyle
Directed by: Sarah Vickery
Performed by: Toby Rice, Gabrielle Savrone, and Fiona Scarlett
The Love That Dare Not Speak It's Name is Doyle's latest project and is the first of a series of three planned presentations which form 'The Upstairs Trilogy'. It is the beginning of something like a theatrical mini series and as with all good 'first episodes', this one is engaging, intriguing and left me eager to see part two.
The Owl and Cat is an intimate theatre - not unusual in Melbourne. What is unusual is that the creatives truly understand what this means for the theatre which is presented in that building. Not only that, but this depth of understanding means that they have been able to utilize and understand the spaces available throughout the building and use each of them to create perfect theatrical experiences which explore not only topics of interest, but also the site of the experience as part of the conversation.
Bordello was the ultimate example of how they can use the entire building as a single, simultaneous performance experience. I thought in Bordello I had seen all of their available spaces, but last night I was introduced to a new one - a garret it you like - and it was magical.
The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name is a voyeuristic experience. The audience watch the happenings inside a seedy motel room as a dystopian future as the spirit of the people inside is slowly sapped by outrageous social policy and discrimination.
The year is 2022. In 2021 the Australian government passed the Homosexual Practices Act which requires LGBTI people to undergo 'treatment'. In 2022 a census is taken and one of the questions asks for your sexual identity. In light of the recent new law, how do you answer? Do you lie? Do you tell the truth?
Saffy and Bell have holed up in a dingy, dusty, decrepit room at the Kensington Hotel as they try and work through the consequences of their choices. Each had to face these question alone on census night but now they are trying to find a future together. As they discover though, the question never goes away and the longer they try and hide, the more the pressure builds to come out into the open until it literally becomes a life and death situation.
The intimacy of the venue and the voyeuristic nature of this work means that it has a filmic quality to it which defies our expectations of live theatre. The actors have carefully gauged their performances to allow for that and Vickery has managed their use of such a tiny space with creativity, flare, and nuance.
Savrone and Scarlett have developed a lovely intimacy and produce a brave and detailed performances we don't see enough of. There is a lot of nudity but it has the rare quality of being appropriate and necessary for the story telling rather than being a sensationalist exhibition for audience titillation.
Rice plays Bell's brother Terrence. His brooding presence intrudes on the womens' haven again and again, constantly reminding them they have not dealt with anything, reminding them they are not living, reminding them they must eventually emerge from their cocoon. He is their confident, their saviour, and their oppressor all in one.
I was particularly struck by this piece because of the furor which surrounded our recent census about the new information it requested. In a world being once more overrun by dictatorships the ideas of this work (which are very reminiscent of Orwell's 1984 in tone and content) are not as far-fetched as we might wish. My only reservation is that the play implies that sexual identity is chemical matter and I think we have reached a point of understanding that it is so much more than that. If it could be 'corrected' by medication alone, I suspect this law would have been passed a long time ago.
I feel confident in saying you will not see anything like this play anywhere else in Melbourne at the moment. As someone who tends to not like realism in theatre on the whole, I found The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name to be revealing and change my opinion which is refreshing! This play is a great story told with mastery and performed with skill and intelligence.