Sunday 26 August 2018

Hard Boiled Bush Noir - Theatre Review

What: Hard Boiled Bush Noir
When: 27 August - 2 September 2018
Where: Irene Mitchell Studio, St Martins Theatre
Written by: Shane Grant
Directed by: Iris Gillard
Performed by: Adam Mattaliano and Miles Paras
Set and Costumes by: Lara Week
Lighting by: Niklas Pajanti
Miles Paras
There is something course, rough, mean and gritty about the Australian outback psyche and Hard Boiled Bush Noir brings all of that paranoia and panick to our stages in a triptych of tales written by Shane Grant. Playing at St Martins Theatre in South Yarra, the chills you get watching this will not be coming from the cold winter nights, they will come from deep in your gut as you wait for these three stark and striking tales to unfold.

Grant is a story teller in a style we don't see a lot of anymore. If you ever lived anywhere in rural Australia, you have probably sat around a campfire at night and listened to or spun a yarn and cowered in terror of the shadows moving in the dark of night. This is how Grant writes.

A fan of the long monologue form, Grant weaves stories as epic in content as Beowulf, yet with all the minutiae of modernism. In an era of show, don't tell Grant takes us back to a time when we listened and let our imaginations create horrors far greater than any set, costume, or actor could ever bring us on the stage.

Grant brings us three outback tales. The first is a piece of fan fiction from James. M. Cain's short story 'The Baby In The Icebox'. Called 'The Rooster That Thought It Was A Roo'. This tale brings us the fever of Wolf Creek with the brutality of Romper Stomper and sets the tone for an evening of nightmares. In the monologue format we listen as Crusty (Mattaliano) is driven mad - but is it really the rooster's fault? Mattaliano is Commedia trained - it italy - and the liveliness of his features tell us everything we need to know about Crusty just as he tells us everything we need to know about everyone else.

The second two short plays are completely new works. 'The Camel Story' is a suspense thriller which begins with a surprise date and takes a serious turn for the worse. This is probably the weakest of the three although conceptually it is very intriguing. I think it needs to be longer - a full length play on it's own. This would allow for some character development and give the audience a journey to go on just as the characters go on their road trip.

I think it is also directorially weakest, with the actors sitting in a car for most of it and I don't feel Mattaliano really knew what to do with his character, The Sarge. To be honest I thought he was a chauffer or rich playboy for quite a while until Paras called him Sarge. The costuming also gave no clue at all which was annoying. There are some strong ideas in the staging but Gilliard needs to take a step back and think about what the story is about. If Grant takes the opportunity to expand the script it will help a lot too.

The evening ends on a great note with 'The Crocodile Story'. I don't think you can get more dinkum than a tale like this. A beautiful woman sits in a bar and you ask her if you can buy her a drink... Women will love this one and men will shrink in terror.

Grant's meandering and relentless way of weaving a story matches Gaillard's fascination with the human psyche and she is careful to create a world for the actors which allows them to engage the audience but also keep them listening. Grant's writing requires concentration and many directors would be eager to over produce because of the vividness of his imagery, but Gaillard demonstrates her understanding of what Grant is doing and does not get in the way of it being done.

Pajanti's lighting is simple and stark, again another great foil for the writing. Coming from all angles (a touch of Vorticism perhaps?) he keeps the lighting clean and white. There is colour - reds and blues - but rather than saturating the stage with them, he tints the open white to create mood rather than moments and works with hard lines and shadows bringing forefront once again the understanding images in our imagination can be the most terrifying thing of all.

This is the second show I have seen this week designed by Week (the other being Mothermorphosis). Using the same aesthetic she has created an outback canvas of red dust and looming landscape with pockets of minutiae which reflects Grant's style beautifully. Starting with a yard full of car parts and milk crates just like we would see at any country servo, there is plenty of business to keep Mattaliano busy as he weaves his first tale whilst slowly working towards the second.

This is clever and whilst I usually rail against business, it works in a kind of meditative way here because we get lulled into a mesmeric trance as we realise we don't have to focus on what we see. We have to focus on what we hear. It would have been great if the changes between the three pieces were managed as well. They are too long and aggravating and there is not enough of a shift to feel as an audience member I got a payoff in the pause.

Get your winter chills in a different way and head down to St Martins Theatre for a ripper night of Hard Boiled Bush Noir. It's dinky di and a rip snorter. And don't offer to buy her a drink...

4 Stars

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