Thursday, March 18, 2010

Death In Bowengabbie Review

Death In Bowengabbie took out last year's Philip Parson's Young Playwright award after its writer and now director Caleb Lewis pulled it out of the running. This says a lot about how highly regarded the writing is, and indeed it is very good, by turns moving and funny. At times Lewis can be as evocative of place as Peter Carey. And in solo performer Andrew Brackman, playing a multitude of characters including a Tasmanian Devil called Rasputin, we have an actor capable of delivering comedy as well as the vulnerable and flawed stuff that makes us human. And yet, for me, it took a while to warm to the play. It won me over in the end, but there were minor issues.

Oscar returnes to his home town of Bowengabbie for a series of funerals, all rapid-fire 15 years after his departure. Each funeral is orchestrated by the departed to out-do the previous funeral in theatrics, and eventually it becomes apparent that something is not quite right. Are the deaths in this strange, dying town coincidence or are they linked? If someone is topping Bowengabbie's elderly, why? It's a love story within a mystery within a comedy.

It's hard to nail exactly what the flaws were (assuming they were onstage and not simply in my head), but they seemed to be in the credibility of it all. It all starts off straight enough, but we're gradually drawn into a dark, off-kilter other place and other time, and for me there was something not perfect with the transition. It took me there in the end, but with a couple of small bumps along the way. The love strand of the story didn't sit quite right with me, as though it need a longer time to unfold and truly draw us in.

And yet, and yet, and yet... the play becomes more farcical (if that isn't to strong a word) as it progresses so that it ends up being quite a different creature to the one we sat down with. And there were some delightfully funny moments both in the lines and their delivery. There are some really sweet, oddball characters living (and dying) in Bowengabbie, and they will win you over.

At The Old Fitzroy, Woolloomooloo until March 26


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