Here’s another stunner from La Boite’s Indie season, which is again presenting some of the most exciting theatre in Brisbane. The budget is minimal, the venue tiny (the upstairs Loft theatre space seats fewer than 100 people), and cast and crew in all the shows are independents who wouldn’t have a forum anywhere else. This year we’ve already had Niz Jabour’s spell-binding Sufi story-telling in Mullah Nasrudin, and Richard Jordan’s Machina, with two new plays from award-winning playwright Sven Swenson coming up.
Over the years, many of the plays in the Indie seasons have gone on to perform in main-house theatres in Australia and overseas, thus fulfilling the stated aims of La Boite to nurture an independent theatre culture and new audiences in Brisbane.
The success of Hedonism begins with an obvious but topical idea –the disempowerment of young men in Western society. Whether this is due to the rise of feminism, the disintegration of family, the effects of the drug culture, or the imminent collapse of society as we know it doesn’t really matter — the point is that here are four members of an indie rock band from Brisbane who can no longer get it together.
Their first album was a huge success, and they’ve become rock stars with all the privileges and freedom that entails. But testosterone is no longer enough to sustain their hedonistic lifestyle, and they have to come up with a second album to ensure their future.
Writers David Burton and Claire Christian examine their dilemma in a fast, furious and totally engaging way. Over the years the four guys Gareth (Thomas Hutchins), Chimney (Gavin Edwards), Michael (Patrick Dwyer) and Sumo (Nicholas Gell) have progressed (I won’t say grown up or matured) differently, and somehow the old glue that held them together has dissolved. One is married with a baby on the way, one is having issues with his homosexuality, one has lost faith in himself, and one just wants out.
Four young men at a crossroads, but why should we care? They’re the kind of selfish aimless half-hour-of-fame characters who could be seen as contributing nothing to society, because their music (suggested rather than played) is probably no better or worse than anything else in the genre. It’s a clever move not to include it in the script, so that we don’t have to judge it, but must take the reason for their success on trust.
it’s impossible not to love these characters in spite of their misogyny, violence, selfishness and casual racism. The uneasy relationship the audience has with them is not just in the script, but in the assured performances of the four actors, who have captured the essence of these young men with their personal and social dyslexia. They are a perfect team, playing off and against each other, in naturalistic dialogue that captures their true personality, with a profundity that belies its superficial incoherence.
Bursting into and disrupting the selfish disorientation of this quartet comes Phil, their manager, played by Ngoc Phan as a kind of Madame Lash, who begins to beat into them some kind of structured approach. She’s seriously scary, but even she has her secrets and her weaknesses, and just when it seems as if Hedonism are beginning to get it together, all their secrets are revealed and things fall apart again.
Margi Brown Ash, who is surely one of the most exciting and boundary-pushing directors in Queensland, holds this explosive team and script together so that it doesn’t descend into chaos, but forms an amazingly coherent whole. She lets the humour of the situation share prominence with the more sombre reality, and it’s a foot-stomping experience all night, as the audience swing from shocked recognition to pure enjoyment, in one of the most exciting nights of theatre in Brisbane all year.
The vocabulary the characters use is as robust as you’re likely to hear on stage, so it might offend some people, and although it catches the modern idiom perfectly, old-fashioned feminists will regret that the word cunt is still in use as a term of abuse in popular idiom.