Review by Scott Whitmont
It’s been 20 years since Mr. Bailey’s Minder first hit the stage - and what a treat it is for theateregoers that the Ensemble has revived this still relevant and touching triumph from Debra Oswald.
Renowned artist Leo Bailey (John Gaden) is a living national treasure whose works fill galleries and corporate lobbies around Australia. Somewhat pathetically, however, he now lives a ravaged and reclusive life in his dilapidated harbour-view home. He’s plagued by a plethora of ailments, most of them self-induced from years of alcoholism and self-indulgence. Frankly, Leo may be talented but he’s been a downright bastard for most of his life - and he knows it. Most of his ‘friends’ have been offended and mistreated to the point of cutting him off. The same is the case for his five ex-wives and multiple children who have nothing to do with him - with the exception of his eldest daughter Margo, marvelously played with appropriate pathos by Rachel Gordon. Cynical and uptight, she continues to oversee his care, despite being haunted by her childhood and Leo’s constant verbal abuse.
With a recent prison history, young Therese (Claudia Ware) applies for the live-in job as Leo’s companion and carer. After perhaps the worst job interview possible, despite her obvious lack of experience or references, Therese is engaged by Margo and left to the challenge of getting Leo off the booze and engaged in life once more.
In the process of getting to know each other, Therese and Leo develop a bond and learn from each other about self-esteem, regret, shame, love and the possibilities that exist in relationships and in forgiveness. Gaden, now an octogenarian, is still a scintillating stage presence. His Leo is poignant and relatable. Though more than a generation apart, a testament to Gaden and Ware’s abilities as well as to Damien Ryan’s clear directing talent , Leo and Therese equally exude confidence and self-doubt, bravado and uncertainty.
Oswald’s foray into examinations of multiple forms of friendship, caring, trust and justice are further aided by the arrival of Karl, the gentle handyman (Albert Mwangi) who “never sees the nasty side of people”. He soon befriends the duo and shows a distinct attraction to Therese, despite her inability (or unwillingness) to recognise it. If you don’t love yourself, how could anyone else love you?
The now tumbledown former mansion is brilliantly designed by Soham Apte whilst lighting effects from Morgan Moroney (like sun through the stained glass window) give welcome atmosphere and authenticity - likewise Sound Designer Daryl Wallis’s appropriate choice of music ranging from classics to heavy metal, reflecting the opposing tastes of Leo and Therese.
One minor prop regret was that a much discussed uncovered masterpiece of Leo’s could have shown some colour and a figure of sorts on the canvas rather than being clearly blank, as evident to the audience.
Debra Oswald has long demonstrated through her novels and screenplays, an innate ability to juxtapose levity with meaningful life drama. This genre-bending skill is clearly on show in Mr. Bailey’s Minder with the first half playing the highly comic foyle to the drama of the second half’s family/life denouement.
Mr. Bailey’s Minder is a brilliant study of flawed characters who are able to nurture each other against the odds through emotional conflict on many levels. With an enthusiastic standing ovation, the opening night audience clearly reflected this production’s success on every level. Theatre lovers should rush before the season on the Kirribilli foreshore books out. (Open until September 2nd.)
Image Credit: Prudence Upton