Like the bastard child of Kath & Kim meets Wolf Creek, the exceptional Angel Gear by Sven Swenson (co-directed by Brian Lucas & Sven Swenson) is a production about unlikeable people and their horrible existence.
On paper it’s not ordinarily the kind of play that I would be attracted to, but I came away from this La Boite Indie production both awed and repulsed by Swenson (the repulsion coming from his unnerving portrayal of Edge, the inhuman, head perpetrator of the story).
The master playwright carefully leads us into the fringes of life as we know it. Yes, we are a bunch of privileged city-slickers watching a play about a violent, drug-fuelled community that we will never have first-hand experience with but isn’t that one of the duties of the creative – to shine a light on otherness? Swenson begins by amusing us with the stereotypical bogan characters we all love to laugh at and while we enjoy the humour here, we also sense there is something sinister brewing and there certainly is.
Enter the bold “shrew-like” Jayanne – brilliantly played by Casey Woods, Chantel (Cindy Nelson) born into a type of slavery assigned to women of her ilk, Creed (Zachary Boulton) and Foz (Kieran Law) and their semi-conscious struggle against their genetic disposition to violence, the tortured Smeg (Michael Deed), unwitting Gary (Dan Stockwell), Sugar the slime (Stephen Geronimos) and poor sub-human meth-head Spite (unforgettably played by Sam Plummer). These young people have been raised into a perverse life of gang-banging and meth labs, an inescapable existence completely controlled by the sadistic monster Edge, the self-professed leader of the corrupt outer-Ipswich community.
Englishman Gary is the bastard child of the leader. On the death of his mother he finds his way to Australia looking for his long-lost father. A mistake that may cost him his life when he finds himself trapped in the seedy underworld of his father’s creation – a place where a customs officer doesn’t want to be found-out.
Stereotypes or not, these characters are recognisable: relations perhaps, long-gone friends, or legends passed on through generations. Swenson has brilliantly and faithfully captured that sad redneck character that, jokes aside, is dangerously close to home.
The thriller genre is a rarity for the stage – perhaps because it is easier to cope with this level of ingrained violence with the protective barrier of the plasma screen. Being in the same room is to be in collusion with the perpetrator. The extreme violence however, rough as it is, is not prolonged and we are rewarded with an interesting twist at the end when Kieran Law shines through. Stand-out performances were given by Casey Woods and Sam Plummer, however the entire cast are to be applauded for their fine work; it must have been hard work to keep these dreadful characters going for almost two hours. On that note, it’s rare that a two hour production can keep me awake let-alone engaged so another win for the Angel Gear team.
This production comes with warnings and so it should. You don’t want to go to this if you need to be wary of triggers – act two is especially hard for women to watch. But if you are up for a challenge, Angel Gear is absolutely worth your time, whether just to watch this great, well-paced story unfolding or to witness the craft of impeccable theatre making, it’s all there.
Angel Gear is playing at La Boite until November 8 with Dangerfield Park (an interconnected work from the Sundial Plays) commencing it’s season this Tuesday, October 21 – I will be there with bells on.