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Review: Broken River at La Mama Courthouse

By Casey Bohan

In the writers note for Broken River (playing at La Mama Courthouse September 12-22),  playwright Tony Reck expresses that ‘writing is an act of revolt.’ But in this production, it is unclear exactly what is being revolted against. Too many complex yet under-developed ideas fight to be understood and any possible meaning is lost in the noise. Running at an uninterrupted 2 hours and 20 minutes, the play takes its audience on a trip into the Victorian crime underbelly.  The body of Junie Patel (George Munro) has been discovered in a shallow grave in country Victoria and in the process to achieve justice, Detective Sergeant Peter Rowstone (Adrian Mulraney) conspires to pin the murder on local criminal Marlene Corchoran (Carole Patullo). The true motives for this crime run deep and ugly and there is much more going on than a crime of passion. 

Upon entering the space, the set is intriguing, using the usual seating bank of the courthouse as a levelled set, broken up into seperate locations. This gave opportunity for the use of levels to express status in a play about corruption and power, but if that was the intention, it was not fully realised. Raya Slavin’s sound design is wonderful, but it didn’t work with the actors. Whether this came down to technical difficulties or not enough tech rehearsal is unclear. All the same it should be noted that Slavin’s nuanced design worked with the script, but the direction did not work with the design. However, with opportunity to further strengthen the experience, with less technical mishaps, it stands to be a strong component of this production.

The actors of this piece are tasked with a tall order, there is much to be discussed and theatrical action to take place, but many of their interactions serve as mere exposition instead of a chance to delve into the minds of these complex individuals. The result being many aspects of their characters were unexplored, which is a shame as the cast appeared quite capable of doing so. Of particular note are Edward McCullough & Jackson Trickett as Ace and Bubs Corchoran. McCullough is detailed and engaging in his portrayal of Ace Corchoran.  Both accent and physicality work coherently to capture the specificities of the character. Trickett’s portrayal of the more innocent Bubs is endearing, making him a real breath of fresh air in each scene.  Also to be noted is Adrian Mulraney’s performance as the threatening and corrupt Detective Inspector Rowstone, Mulraney’s performance is precise and understood, he pulls no punches and isn’t afraid to play the darkness. George Munro as murder victim Junie Patel is the most underdeveloped character of the lot, though Munro is doing the best with what has been given to them, these scenes seem to float apart from the action of the rest of the play and come across as under-directed. Ultimately this is a piece that is asking its actors to save it from itself.

Another thing to note, is the erasure of the voices of non-masculine characters. As they never spoke to one another (this play does not pass the Bechdel test) they were reduced to stereotypes and any chance of development is lost as they become merely props for the debauched manoeuvring of a group of ominous powerful men known only as the ‘Brotherhood’ (another underdeveloped plot point). The script is trying to do too much and missing one of the key enjoyable factors of theatre, character development. While I greatly admire the courage it takes to write a play, rehearse a script and get it in front of an audience, I cannot say that this piece is firing on all cylinders, though it is clear everyone involved is capable of amazing work. The last 15 minute in particular were some of the most disappointing, the scene that played out was upsetting and confusing and artistically, it wasn’t earned. However there are still wonderful pockets of gold in this script, I particularly loved the use of Fish & Chip menu items as code names for drugs, a highlight indeed, unfortunately not enough to maintain the suspense of the thriller it claims to be. 

Overall the script is too ambitious. With more dramaturgical development, perhaps it could have fulfilled its writers inspiration of B-Grade Hollywood Thrillers, removing surplus exposition and further exploring its characters, would have allowed us to experience this story with some emotional connection. 

If it is trying to revolt against something in our political climate or society, I was left unsure what that was. 

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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