Review By Megan Mitchell
The Hitmen is a dark comedy, written by Mish Wittrup, which revolves around a group interview to gain employment as a Hitman at Australia’s largest assassin company, ‘K.O.C’.
The play manages to balance humour, unpredictable plot, character depth and fascinating dialogue for the entire duration. It is practically the definition of ‘dark humour’; a lot of the humour is macabre, stemming from talk of violence, death or crime. But the cast, accompanied by Wittrup’s strong writing and Blake Barnard’s excellent direction suspend the audience’s concept of reality, carefully curating whether they want the audience to laugh or cry out in horror.
The play is set entirely within one room, a single set designed to be a corporate meeting room, with a start-up feel. It created a trapped, stagnant atmosphere for the performers that slowly built tension; one of many well-planned aspects of stagecraft.
The standard of performance was very high across the board, doubly impressive that the actors’ skill extended to carrying dramatic narrative alongside consistent and clever humour.
One thing to note; each character (with the exception of CEO Gwen) went by the name of ‘John’, a clever world-building tool to erase who that person was outside of KOC. Due to incredibly specific and clever costuming, plus well-developed characters, it was easy to extrapolate who the people were and what archetype they represented, creating brilliant depth to the narrative.
I thought the character of ‘IT expert’ John was exceptionally well written as a Computer Nerd stereotype - he possessed the singular intelligence, social ineptitude and mislaid superiority of a Big Bang Theory-type character. There was a constrained intensity in Raymond Martini’s performance which was very engaging; his speech on dealing with emotions was brilliant.
The ‘Criminal Couple’ Johns were lower-class criminals who had been in a long-term, questionable-but-loving relationship. Harry Borland and Eidann Glover were highly entertaining, with clear speech, movement and aggression built into their characters and despite being arguably the ‘least likeable’ of the applicants, endeared the audience to their broken views on the world. They seemed to struggle when it came to the simpler, dramatic dialogue, wherein they couldn’t lean on their larger-than-life characters, but made up for it towards the end of the play.
The other characters were more subtle, creating a necessary balance within the play’s dynamics. Sophia Petridis played a quiet, reserved ‘John’ who partnered up with the other normal-seeming, anxious ‘John’ played by Will McDonald. This was great writing by Wittrup, to allow the audience a moment to breathe and give context to the insanity of the world and it’s other inhabitants.
Petridis has a lovely grounded-ness to her, but didn’t quite embody the ‘mystery’ her character needed in order to make her interesting enough to compete with the other enormous personalities. McDonald’s ‘John’ is framed as the protagonist of sorts at the beginning, and his energy is largely responsible for starting the play off with a bang, which he was then able to maintain. However as his moral compass begins to stray, his character progression was a little confusing. He seemed to play three separate ‘beginning, middle and end’ characters instead of one singular ‘John’ who was adapting to the challenges thrown at him.
Tim Lancaster was a silent, intimidating ‘Agent Smith’ type of ‘John’, lurking in the background and doing the CEO’s dirty work. He was incredibly engaging, and able to be funny, cruel and comforting without saying a single word. I think a lot of his brilliant presence was to do with Lancaster’s attention to detail.
Argus was enjoyable in his portrayal of ‘John’ but this character was also the only real issue I had with Wittrup’s writing. While the rest of the world was outlandish but firmly rooted within plausible, if unlikely, reality, Argus’ character seemed to slip a little into absurdity. The arc of the character was a necessary plot point, but the identity and circumstances of this particular ‘John’ felt a little jarring with the rest of the play, and I feel Argus leaned into this, making choices which felt simply for laughs.
The driving force of the play, Cazz Bainbridge’s ‘Gwen’ was an absolute joy to watch. She was constantly surprising the audience with her choices, delivery and character, managing to be likeable and sweet as well as psychotic and flippant. She had a remarkable grasp on character and held the audience’s attention within everything she did; her Baby Born monologue was fantastic. You couldn’t help but like her despite her deeply disturbing nature.
The direction, writing and performance of this show is excellent; the play is surprising, truly funny and makes you deeply consider the moral quandaries presented. This is Australian theatre at a high standard, it plays until the 14th of March, and I recommend you get a ticket.
Image Credit: Justine McArthur
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.