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Review: Darwin’s Reptilia at 25A Belvoir

Review by Kate Gaul

The launch of a new play is always cause for excitement. Belvoir’s 25A is consistently presenting new, vibrant works and there’s no better way for a writer to discover what is working and what is not by getting their show up. Productions can be modest, but the gift of an audience is priceless. Jackrabbit presents Charlie Faulkner’s “Darwin’s Reptilia”.

The title suggests that the play will deal with survival of the fittest - and it does as a motley crew of locals and tourists are under siege at the Palms Motel by a life-threatening infestation of crocodiles. The location of most of the play is Darwin the city and so, the Reptilia are both the crocs and the aforementioned locals and tourists as the pressure cooker brings out the best and worst of humanity.

New York based self-help writer Renata (a glamourous Ainslie McGlynn) visits Australia with the father of her child Irishman Declan (played with gusto by Danny Ball). Her biological mother has died, and she reconnects with her sister, Flick (the always brilliant Zoe Jensen). Renata’s disinterest in her offspring strengthens themes of extinction as does the mysterious disappearance of hubby of Palms Motel manager Bobbi (a charismatic Leilani Loau). Lonely guy John (a very funny Mathew Lee) follows Renata only to find joy with Flick and the prospect of leaving the top end for the far south and a sighting of the carnivorous Tassie Devil. The Devil of course, is completely extinct on mainland Australia and the ever-present image of white humanity clinging to the edges of this continent is both eerie and reminiscent of familiar tropes in Australian story telling. Was the Irishman reminding us of our colonial past? The opening scenes of the play go to great lengths to establish his hatred of smoking and its potential effects on humanity, and he later succumbs to a durry as the dramatic pressure builds.

Towards the end of the play Renata makes the bold move to leave the compound of the Palms Motel and abandon her child and presumably her current life. Bobbi releases a rat from a cage back into the wild. We fear for the survival of both. The rat never returns but in the final moments of the play Renata reappears with torn clothing and stands under a fall of snow. Is it snow? Or is it ash? Her face is marked with black streaks and her deceased mother was one for “burning things down”. An image of environmental destruction or hope? A return to our true nature or …? There are many ideas rattling around in this play and I suspect its really a compact 50 minutes trapped in its current 100-minute version. The balance of keeping the comic tone buoyant, telling a cracking story, and making sense of the spiky themes is hampered by what feels overlong and indulgent.

The naturalistic style is well managed by the strong cast and director Samantha Young (who knows Darwin well!) creates a believable world of languor, bright sun, heat, and endless beers. Shout-out to Saint Clair who not only produces but also delivers an astute lighting design to support the production. Darwin – on the edge of a place where loners can reinvent, where you find yourself, or come face to face with the march of time in the eyes of a croc – both literal and mythical is given both a heartfelt and cheeky wink by this talented company. With great performances and plenty of laughs what’s not to like in this new play?

Photo by Phil Erbacher


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