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Review: This Bitter Earth at Theatre Works

Review By Maree Paliouras

Queer theatre an important part of society, it challenges stereotypes and gender roles and breaks barriers in ways that theatre usually doesn’t. It is brave, beautiful art that deserves recognition from queer and straight people alike.

This Bitter Earth (written by Chris Edwards and directed by Riley Spadaro) is a perfect example of queer theatre done right. Fresh off a hit season in Sydney, the play is currently making its Melbourne debut as part of 2020’s Midsumma Festival and is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the program.

Featuring Michael Cameron, Elle Mickel, Matthew Predny, Ariadne Sgouros, Sasha Simon, and Alexander Stylianou, the play is an incredible anthology. Each scene is separate from the last, with all actors taking on a multitude of versatile roles while doing an utterly brilliant job at portraying them. Essentially, it is a collection of short plays depicting the lives of a number of queers in a number of situations, discussing an array of issues, and forming relationships. A multitude of emotions are covered, from sadness to anger, sometimes blatant and sometimes hidden under the mask of comedy.

In short, it is very gay and very great.

This Bitter Earth begins with a man (Predny) standing onstage by himself. He begins a monologue outlining his first Grindr experience; a recount of a story about homophobia, stalking, and vomit. Through a lot of air quotes, a near constant repetition of the word “anyways,” and swearing (so much swearing) while proclaiming that those are all things that he hates, the awkward and anxious nature of the character is strong. The actor uses a microphone to effectively enhance the storytelling, this coupled with his expression and strong characterisation provides an impeccable opening.

The next scene opens with another man (Cameron) preparing to propose to his partner (Stylianou) of many years. The scene creates tension and explores common ideas and issues associated with same-sex couples and the idea of loving concepts rather than people. It is emotional and hilarious; a wild ride of emotions.  

The third scene introduces the rest of the cast. It begins with three women (Simon, Sgouros, and Mickel) in the midst of an elaborate aerobics routine that quickly turns into the women having a conversation about things ranging from ill mothers to boyfriends named Jaren. It is very raw and very real, a perfect example of cycling emotions and the not so pretty side of friendships.

The fourth scene is particularly noteworthy in terms of the use of technical aspects of theatre. It is set in a nightclub setting and is the first instance of actors from different scenes portraying a second character. Strobe lights and loud music blasts while the actors dance and smoke on stage, it creates an atmosphere that makes the characters very relatable as they straight up have a good time on stage.

What is dubbed a “Sangria Safe Space” allows the ensemble to interact while showcasing the set. Several chairs are placed in a room with a single lightbulb where characters sit, drink, joke around, share secrets, and form relationships. The chemistry between the ensemble is undeniable and only amplified by the rest of the play.

Finally, the play ends on the first character (Predny) as he begins a similar monologue to the one he spieled at the beginning, only he is joined by the rest of the ensemble. They take turns saying words and providing better words, by the end voices are practically screaming over each other. The result is enchanting, providing the perfect end to the show.

As all great things have to come to an end, This Bitter Earth must. It will be playing at Theatre Works through to February 2nd and it is a must-see in order to truly complete your Midsumma experience this year. 

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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