Review by Kate Gaul
A balmy evening after a day of heavy rain is the perfect setting for this outdoor production, last year’s sell out season is reprised by Griffin Theatre for Sydney Festival 2022. “’Green Park” by Elias Jameison Brown is a firecracker!
Set and performed in Darlinghurst’s Green Park, it’s a familiar story of boy meets older man on a park bench. This site has particular significance as part of Sydney’s gay history. It runs parallel to “the wall” on Darlinghurst Road – once a popular spot for sex work – and a now-demolished toilet block which served as a gay beat. Located between St Vincent’s hospital and the National Art School, between the historic sandstone walls and our contemporary roadways, sandwiched between a Jewish Museum and some kind of convent - this is theatre that bristles with ghosts. In a play that makes us privy to a liminal relationship this setting is inextricably perfect.
The audience gather in this park to sit (take your own rug, chair or pillow!), don headsets and encounter two characters – Warren (Steve Le Marquand), an ostensibly-straight man in his fifties visiting from the country, and Edden (Joseph Althouse), a much younger Sydneysider, openly out, a self proclaimed twink in command of an easy sexuality. This is a Grindr hook up. Both carry trauma. What are the lies? What is the truth? This ain’t gonna be an easy night. It’s an intensely naturalistic presentation, without theatrical trappings. There is no lighting other than the natural sunset and park fixtures. The “stage” is a park bench and later extends to other areas of the park as the drama escalates. If it wasn’t for the seated audience this really could be a “real” event.
Once the characters decide how this encounter will end they do not return for a traditional “curtain call” which creates an odd sensation for the audience as we too wander into the night. It’s a heightened sensation of having been witness to personal truths and humanity’s rawness.
Through the headsets we really are eavesdropping on whispers, cries, banter. These extraordinary actors – both brilliantly inhabit these characters. It’s detailed, complex, truthful work. It is a privilege to watch, and too rarely seen on our stages. Their bodies ebb and flow with the dialogue – it’s a beautiful dance between two strangers who are crossing time and space.
Declan Greene directs with a light touch. His work is always incredibly watchable and succinct.
The stakes are high and we don’t want to look away. The use of the park is masterful and means that passer-by’s become unwittingly and easily part of the action. Dave Bergman’s sound design supports the natural sound of the park and enhances the rising dramatic tension.
Brown’s is a compelling play, with its nuanced dialogue and contemporary references. He clearly loves the characters each with deep flaws, deceptions and vulnerabilities. It’s very exciting to see where Australian playwriting is heading and what smart, daring and sensitive directors are bringing to interpretation. If you love new plays in the hands of great artists do not miss this season!