Review by Matthew Hocter
You would have to have been living under a rock for the last few years to not have heard about the anti-gay purges that have been taking place in Chechnya and across the world. Horrific in their nature and sadly, the silence from many leaders has shown just how truly acceptable homophobia still is in the world. Still illegal in 70 countries around the world, the fight against homophobia is far from over. With countries like Chechnya actively hunting down and murdering gay and bisexual men, plays like DIRT have never been more important.
Having read bits and pieces on DIRT, I so desperately forced myself to limit my knowledge as I didn’t want to have any preconceived ideas about the play, nor did I want to be let down should it not meet my “expectations.” As I gently squeezed myself into my chair in the former chapel that now serves as The Arch, one of the theatres at The Holden Street complex, I couldn’t help but think about my own freedom to be a gay man and how this play would impact me.
It’s no secret that DIRT’s content is both compelling and unsettling, maybe more so for those that have never experienced homophobia, but still just as raw for those that have and continue to experience it. The story revolves around two men, one an Australian Journalist (Wil King) and the other a Russian (Patrick Livesey), who meet in downtown Moscow. The dynamic of the two “straight” men’s first meeting, coupled with a dance around the obvious sexual tension, flirting in a roundabout way, was not only done with curiosity, but also a sense of survival, not knowing if in fact both shared the same likeness. They did.
As the one-night stand progresses into a debate about right and wrong and the complexities of that argument dependant on where you are from, the legalities and complications of being gay in modern day Russia & Chechnya were put front and centre. Speaking out was the go-to for King’s character having grown up in Australia. Whereas the fear of disappearing or even worse, death, was the basis for Livesey’s suspicious character as he held back from divulging too much, if anything at all. Propaganda and idealism clashed in a head-to-head as the two men delved deep into issues facing so many gay men: internalised homophobia, laws put in place to oppress, violence and the never-ending shame that plague so many.
Writer Angus Cameron and director Bronwen Coleman created a play that manages to explore many topics in its sixty-minute run, whilst putting a regime that is killing people for nothing more than their sexual identity, firmly under the microscope for all to see and examine. This was only reinforced by the stars of the show whose own real-life relationship transcended and allowed for an incredibly realistic portrayal. Experiences lived always equates to something more raw, honest and emotive.
Although painful to watch at times and with a vital message that complacency is never an option for the LGBT community at large, DIRT was one of the Fringes most powerful and though provoking pieces of work. An important thing to note here too, one dollar from every ticket sold also went to the Russian LGBT Network, an organisation supporting equal rights and dignity in Russia.