Sunday 1 October 2023

Stage: Finding connections

Strangers in Between
by Tommy Murphy
director Adam Spreadbury-Maher
with Alex Ansdell, Matthew Mitcham, Stephen Connery-Brown
design David Shields
music Aaron Climgham
lighting Richard Lambert
Golden Goose Theatre, Camberwell • 19.Sep-7.Oct.23

While Tommy Murphy's 2005 play is now a nostalgic period piece, it also continues to powerfully capture the community between three very different people who find themselves creating an offbeat family unit. So while it's set in a specific place and time, what it reveals about the queer subculture continues to resonate, especially as it sensitively explores issues of internalised homophobia.

It's set in Sydney's once-rough Kings Cross suburb, as runaway teen Shane (Ansdell) finds a job in a bottle shop and begins to learn about life in the city and also explore the world as a young gay man. He flirts awkwardly with customer Will (Mitcham), beginning a tentative relationship. And older customer Peter (Connery-Brown) befriends Shane as well, showing him the ropes. As the months pass, Shane begins to confront his past, most notably his sometimes violent relationship with his brother Ben (also Mitcham), and he also begins to plot a way forward with the help of his new friends.

Focussed on Shane's inner journey, the play is structured in a series of scenes that offer insight into his personality and emotional life, revealing some seriously frightening mood swings that are a result of damage inflicted by both child abuse and societal prejudice. This emerges dangerously in the hatred he has for himself, frightened of what his sexuality means. So while the play unfolds with lightly comical elements, the dialog is often piercingly intense.

Ansdell is excellent in a demanding role as a lost boy trying to find his footing in a place that scares him. Even in some shocking mood swings, his open-handed performance is hugely sympathetic, offering beautiful connections with the other actors. Connery-Brown brings just the right balance of pathos and sassiness to Peter, a middle-aged man who is world-weary but still kicking. And Mitcham has a terrific matter-of-fact physicality as the muscly Will, a young guy who is confident in who he is, but perhaps sees something worth pursuing in Shane. 

The intimate staging at the Golden Goose uses lighting and cleverly designed sets to pull the audience into the deeper issues the play is grappling with, never becoming preachy or sentimental. Detailed touches in the direction, such as food preparation and working taps, add a zing of connection. Perhaps the only thing missing is some more honest lustiness, as the one sex scene is played coyly for laughs. But the nakedly emotional final moments are gorgeous. 

For information, GOLDEN GOOSE THEATRE >

photos by Peter Davies • 30.Sep.23

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