By Michael Kaufmann
“Was I wrong?.. no”
When I entered the insular Old Fitz theatre and went to turn on the “Do Not Disturb” function on my phone, I was looking forward to a pleasant diversion from the world of #AusPol, and the constant onslaught of politics. That did not happen.Cyprus Avenue sits squarely in the pantheon of British In-ya-face theatre, if slightly towards the more intense and political end. It is shocking, dark, upsetting, whilst also deeply, deeply funny. That is, until it isn’t.
Upon entering, I was greeted with a stark, white set. Simple, clean, and uncluttered. It served an excellent purpose over the course of the evening, at times it was a family home, at other moments, a doctor’s office, a park, and a pub; effectively housing the events, both as tangible places and within our main character’s mind as he tries to explain and justify his actions. The lighting also cleanly helped in this realisation. At times white and clinical and then also bringing moments of warmth that leave the audience leaning towards momentary and ignorant empathy.
The minimal use of sound and music also have clearly delineate what was unfolding on stage.
The performances from the small cast were all round phenomenal, and Anna Houston’s even-handed direction had clearly guided them. A clear standout of the night was Lloyd Allison-Young as Slim, providing a charismatic and frightening foil to Roy Baker’s central Eric. Branden Christine brought a controlling and powerful presence to all of her (unfortunately sparse) scenes as Eric’s doctor, whilst Jude Gibson and Amanda McGregor portrayed Eric’s family with tragic pathos and a failing sense of reason. Roy Baker’s performance of Eric, the central figure, as a man under unbeatable scrutiny, desperately trying to explain himself, formed the back bone of the night. Though starting shakily with a slightly unbalanced Irish accent, he eventually found stride and went on to deliver one of the more deceptively unsettling and hilarious monologues I have witnessed. However, and fittingly so, his charisma and reasoning prove not enough to redeem a helpless man after a painful and distressing final act.
The text is strong, very strong. I imagine for some members of the audiences who will experience this production, potentially too strong. Strengthened by biting wit and intelligent dialogue, the first two thirds of the play present a clear, direct, and successful satire. Some of the jokes in these scenes landed perfectly, a testament to the writing, direction, and performances collectively; by the end of the play, the jokes are still flying but I, along with the rest of the audience were too sickened to respond with anything more than a desperately uncomfortable chuckle. The jokes themselves don’t really change, neither do the characters making, but the audience by this point has been led on a complete turn and we sat there confused, hurt, and scared. The premise is brilliant. What starts as a clever “I think my granddaughter is actually a politician I disagree with in disguise” evolves methodically into a dark fable of dated political ideologies pushed too far...much too far. The characters are brilliantly utilized, ultimately all as foils to the central man, whilst never appearing one-dimensional or shallow.
Much like others pieces of this style, this play has a clear and concise message. It probes a frankly recognizable man and pushes him to the breaking point. At what point do political ideas become toxic? Is culturally ingrained racism rational? How far into the depths of psychosis does a man have to be to rationalize murder? To rationalize infanticide? And is he culpable for his actions at that point? From the first joke, in which Eric asks Bridget, a young woman of colour, when hisactual doctor will be arriving, writer David Ireland, clearly signposts a political agenda for the proceeding 90 minutes. Drawing clear connections to the dissonant past of Irish Independence and the trauma experienced by the survivors of times such as the heavily referenced “Troubles”, Ireland leads the audience on an analytical and caustic exploration of the victims of political movements, the lives they are forced to live, and the slots they are forced into by their leanings.
Cyprus Avenue is difficult viewing, I cannot emphasise this strongly enough. I left the Old Fitz feeling shattered and deeply upset about the play I had just viewed. Checking my phone to see the federal election updates evoked the kind of harrowing parallels David Ireland appears to have hoped for. Successfully directed, acted, and produced, I travelled home with Ireland’s message resounding clear in my mind. Past anguish leads to future anxiety, Anger creates violence, and pain begets further pain.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.