Review by Naomi Cardwell
Theatre at Carlton’s Motley Bauhaus feels like Melbourne’s very own portal to Narnia. You begin in an ordinary-looking pub, nursing a frosty pint, admiring various punters’ mullets and graphic tees. Then, suddenly, a straggling queue conveys you through an unremarkable rear door, and boom: you’re in a back-room theatre, about to be transported to another world.
Today, we don’t travel far. A Dirty Kebab, produced by 2050 Theatre and Plain English Productions, is set in the seedy living room of an inner-Melbourne share house, the morning after one hell of a bender. Shambling around and preparing to drink away their hangover, Kate (Lucy May Knight) and Greg (Joe Eidelson) discover their housemate Derrick (Noah Gill) is more than a bit fucked up after their big night out: he’s stone cold dead.
The play has us giggling before it’s even started, with Derrick’s lifeless form propped up on the couch, motionless, as we take our seats in the sold-out theatre. Gill’s performance is pitch-perfect, with touching warmth during his speaking parts, and impressive physical comedy as the other actors poke, prod and arrange him throughout a series of catastrophes recalling Weekend at Bernie’s.
The black comedy hits its peak at the thunderous arrival of Big Dick Barry - Aston Elliot, gleefully dropping all the c-bombs and painting the stage red as Derrick’s bikie uncle. Elliot rocks the tiny stage as he strides around issuing threats and demanding explanations. He’s also the only actor whose vocal projection consistently makes it over the sound of the electric fan whirring at the rear of the room - a necessary evil on the hot night we caught this performance.
Rohan Dimsey as Tim is the perfect clean-cut straight man among the bikie boozers and the corpse - representing that mate who succumbed too early and too hard to conventional life, who we all (admit it!) would love to see squealing on the floor just a little bit. And that’s the magic of A Dirty Kebab: in spite of the ludicrous plot, every character feels like somebody you used to know.
As Greg, Joe Eidelson’s deadpan just gets funnier and funnier. Greg’s solipsistic ennui is hilarious, as are his churlish one-liners when his constant attempts to deliver a pompous self-pitying soliloquy are short-circuited. The dark thread of the piece reveals itself in Greg’s casual contempt for Kate, with his everyday domestic misogyny juxtaposed meaningfully against Barry’s outright physical violence. Playing Kate, Lucy May Knight shines as they cop it from all sides. In a state of sustained trauma, she’s all fight and no flight, meeting c-bombs with ferocious language of their own and only relaxing her defences to tell the dead man her secrets.
Be warned, this play has lot of swearing, including a very healthy dose of c-bombs, but none of it feels gratuitous or out of place. In fact, writer and director Savier D'Arsie-Marquez has a gift for meting out the elements to produce fantastic pacing and comedy: the play rockets along and has the audience laughing and invested all the way through. Particularly effective are the scream-inducingly frustrating interjections of Derrick’s irritating mobile phone ringtone - sound design by Sam Osborn Rassaby - and the characters’ collective exasperation trying to shut the thing up. Details like this make A Dirty Kebab one of those grungy Naarm originals that sneaks into your memory as a cult hit.
It’s a simple and obviously shoestring-budget play, but richer productions should take note of just how much can be made out of so little when the script is sharp and the cast are all-in.
Never mind small budgets or small details. Let’s finish by discussing the …big things. We’ve never seen a man beaten to death with his own penis on stage, and frankly, we feel the better for it. We’ve also never seen an audience simultaneously crane their necks and lean forward so much as the moment Big Dick Barry unzips his pants to show the cowering housemates how he got his nickname. If you want to know more, you’ll just have to see it for yourself.