The whole theatre/pub culture in London is pretty fantastic if you ask me. The first time I attended a performance in one of these venues, I was so amazed by the city’s determination to have quality theatre in as many places as possible. Given that the King’s Head Theatre is the oldest theatre/pub in London, established in 1970, I was pretty excited to see Tommy Murphy’s Strangers in Between.
This is the story of Shane (Roly Botha), a sixteen year-old homosexual boy, who escapes his sleepy Australian hometown of Goulburn to move to Sydney where he works in a liquor store. As the play progresses, the audience follows Shane and his relationships with Will (Dan Hunter), a gorgeous blond-haired stud, and Peter (Stephen Connery-Brown), an older gay bachelor who becomes one of Shane’s only friends in the big city. The director’s note speaks of the link between homosexuality and homelessness, just one of the many issues the play confronts without beating around the bush.
You can feel the sexual tension right from the start of the show. Shane is gay but afraid to admit it. His brother Ben beat him up when he found out; “they couldn’t get him off me”- an awful image to visualize, but it is a truth many of us tend to forget. Ben appears a couple of times in the show, portrayed by the same actor playing Will, an interesting and effective choice that showcases Dan Hunter’s incredible versatility. Roly Botha in the leading role of Shane gives an outstanding debut performance despite the occasional moment when his anger crosses the line into headache-inducing screams. The point is clear without risking damaged vocal chords.
The play tackles tough subjects with a hilarious and bold lack of taboo. All three actors are funny, but its Connery-Brown’s Peter who steals the show. There is something about his middle-aged wit and tone of voice that gives his lines so much more je ne sais quoi. Inviting a sixteen year-old boy (who we think is nineteen at first) to dinner because you want to test out the terrine recipe in a magazine you have at home? I rest my case. I’m glad to see more writers and directors embracing comedy. It seems as though many shows tend to take themselves too seriously and fear what laughter can bring to the performances. Laughter balances and supports drama, it’s also a pure indicator of entertainment which is supposed to be one of theatre’s principal goals.
The play starts with a loud noise and a dramatic change of lighting; it does the same thing at the start of the second act; if you’re faint hearted, you may faint. Aside from that, I enjoyed the way director Adam Spreadbury-Maher decided to conduct scene changes. None of that pretending to be invisible on stage when actually we can see everything you’re doing. No, he decided to change the lighting to blue (well done to Richard Williamson on the cool neon-meets-royal blue he came up with), put on electronic music, and have the actors turn the liquor store into a bedroom in plain sight. There’s a moment where Will hands a glass of wine to Peter after assisting with a set change to a scene he’s not even in. I liked that- a weird mini scene inside the transition that illuminates the characters beyond the strictly textual.
Strangers in Between surpassed my expectations. It addresses an important message and is at the same time wildly entertaining; a good way to begin the theatre season of 2017.