Relative Merits – King St Theatre

Relative Merits, from 1993, tells the story of Adam, a gay AFL player who is publicly-closeted (in 1997, the term ‘glass closet’ would be popularised by Michael Musto for this exact scenario), who retires from the game for reasons that become clear as the play progresses. When Adam’s estranged brother Clay shows up in Adam’s house (climbing through the window like all good rough-around-the-edges teenagers), it’s a vehicle for Barry Lowe’s play to explore a few issues: how devout Catholicism shapes a family. How ignorance is no excuse for bigotry. How a parent’s views impresses upon a child. How familial bonds grow, change, and shift.

Jeff Teale and James Wright in Relative Merits. Image by Blueprint Studios.
Jeff Teale and James Wright in Relative Merits. Image by Blueprint Studios.

Relative Merits is not subtle, and in a sense it’s reflective of its time. However, this production lacked subtlety, and rather than a text-based decision, it seems to be aiming for a kind of bombastic approach that just ends up overshadowing the emotion of the story and diminishes the chances of any development of  three-dimensional character for the brothers. Les Solomon’s direction is a little too insensitive, and that’s a shame.

In its intimate, somewhat immersive space (the foyer of King St Theatre), the play was too loud and too brash. While some aggression for this play is important – it’s violent and raw and highlights oppression – the play on the whole was too aggressive. It lacked shading, which ended up preventing the moments with more weight to effectively reach the audience.

Jeff Teale brings his life as an ex-AFL football player to his portrayal of Adam, and he certainly looks the part. It’s clear he cares about the part, too, and the sincerity behind his performance is endearing. James Wright’s Clay is a raw and rough jumble of a teenager with a rapidly challenged worldview, and that rawness is both a bad and good thing for this production – he demands your attention, but doesn’t quite yet know what to do with it. That’s promising – that’s something to be learned.

Relative Merits might not be nuanced, but it does mean well. At 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays, this could be worth a look-in after a dinner reservation or a short show in the area.

Cassie Tongue

Cassie is a theatre critic and arts writer in Sydney, and is the deputy editor of AussieTheatre. She has written for The Guardian, Time Out Sydney, Daily Review, and BroadwayWorld Australia. She is a voter for the Sydney Theatre Awards.

Cassie Tongue

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