Friday 12 May 2023

THE WRONG HORSE: Theatre Review

WHAT: The Wrong Horse
WHEN: 10 - 14 May 2023
WHERE: The MC Showroom (Main Stage)
WRITTEN BY: Marty MonStar
DIRECTED BY: Marion Arditti
DESIGNED BY: Sylvia Shao
PERFORMED BY: Brigitte Jarvis, Darren Mort, Graham Murray, Dom Phelan, and Ian Rooney

Dom Phelan, Brigitte Jarvis and Graham Murray - photo supplied

Delightful. This is not the coolest word in the dictionary, but it is the best word to describe The Wrong Horse now playing at The MC Showroom in Prahran.

I hear a lot of men bemoaning not being allowed to tell other people's stories these days, and complaining that leaves them nothing to write about. Those men need to look at the work of writers such as Marty MonStar and Shane Grant. Writers such as these two are showing us how many 'mens' stories there are which haven't been told. Stories which show us all that secret men's business they keep hidden from the rest of us in order to appear tough and stong and leaders. We are finally getting to see real men in all their glory, with all their flaws, all their sensitivity, and all their absurdity.

The Wrong Horse is a story which celebrates the Australian bloke in all his iterations. There is Noddy (Darren Mort) the tough thug, Big Ears (Dom Phelan) the nervous no-hoper, and a plethora of smaller characters surrounding them. Set in Footscray and surrounds, these two blokes form an unlikely pair of small time crooks who knock about together outside of 'working' hours. 

On this very early Tuesday morning Big Ears wakes Noddy full of nervous energy and an inability to sleep. He convinces Noddy to go to the races at Werribee with him. When they get there a gnomelike stable hand (Ian Rooney) gives him a tip. Unfortunately, Noddy has a form of numeral dyslexia. Fortunately for Noddy he is an unnaturally lucky son of a gun. In act 2 we get to see Noddy and Big Ears plying their illegitimate trade. The question is, will their experiences at the race track be mirrored in their working life or are there darker days ahead for this very odd couple from Fitzroy?

The Wrong Horse is a wonderful Australian comedy with all the flavour of Vegemite at its core. We meet all the best old mates from days of yore (and Rooney plays a lot of them!).The cast are a great ensemble and the extreme character definition they have found evidently comes from a core of love for these men being remembered and portrayed. I doubt if we will be seeing them in our writing for much longer so shows like The Wrong Horse are an important part of our cultural lexicon to be cherished.

MonStar has crafted an elegant play and Marion Arditti's direction lifts it into the extraordinary. Supported by a clever and minimalist design by Sylvia Shao, the men move from a flat in Footscray to a cars interior and to the Werribee racetrack and so on. On paper I would perhaps have thought this was too filmic and difficult to realise on stage. Arditti and Shao have found the magic formula though and have created a dynamic staging which just keeps on surprising. 

In my review of The Critical Marriage I commented on how I loved the director's use of the audience. The Wrong Horse takes it a step further and brings the audience into the racetrack to cheer on the races. It is cleverly done and my one bit of advice would be to try and find a way to do this in act 2. Act 2 is, by the very nature of what is happening, less visually stimulating so if the team could find a way to put the audience in the back seat of the car, perhaps, we would once again find ourselves in the middle of the action which would reignite our adrenaline and lift us for that wonderful catharsis at the end.

The cast were all amazing in the way they physically and verbally inhabited their caricatures. Rooney was incredible as he demonstrated he was a master of a thousand accents and Brigitte Jarvis' portrayal of stable hand Mary was possibly the funniest single moment in theatre this century! 

I was also thoroughly entranced by Phelan's portrayal of Big Ears. He had it all. The nervous twitches. The uncontrollable restlessness. The deer in a head lamp eyes. Utterly endearing. Mort was great as Noddy too but I do think MonStar has weighed that character down with too much wordiness. Would this tough guy really use all those words to say what he says?

The Wrong Horse is better than a Kinder Surprise. It is funny, clever, and more Australian that a Four and Twenty pie at the footy. As ocker as Maurie Fields, The Wrong Horse will bring smiles of rememberance along with gales of laughter to your face.

4 Stars

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