|Wil King as Shane in Strangers in Between
Photo: Sarah Walker
Shane (Wil King) is young. He’s run away from his family in Goulburn and he’s arrived in Sydney, finding a job at a bottle-o in King’s Cross. He can’t afford a fridge, doesn’t know how to cook and isn’t sure where coat hangers come from.
He’s dazzled by the wild nightlife, while being terrified of sex workers and drug addicts. He has no friends and no support in Sydney until he makes a couple of new friends who are buying alcohol – Will (Guy Simon) and Peter (Simon Burke).
Will is a young guy, ready to party and have fun with Shane. Peter is middle-aged and has seen a lot over his years but no less-likely to want to have fun with Shane.
Shane, though, is struggling with how to express his sexuality as much as he is wrestling with the simple parts of living an adult life far away from home. He’s also haunted by how he was treated by his brother, Ben (also Guy Simon); Ben beat him up when he discovered Shane having sex with a school mate.
Tommy Murphy’s play was first performed at Griffin Theatre in Sydney in 2005. It’s a period piece now, set in a time before smart phones and hook up apps – and in a world where posting a letter can be a prominent plot point. It feels no less relevant or authentic in the territory it covers, though; the decade or so since lends a helpful distance to the material.
Director Daniel Lammin’s choice to strip everything back is a solid choice and shows confidence in the script. Murphy’s writing demands strong actors to revel in the humour and dig into the emotion. Lammin trusts his performers and the text enough to get out of their way; some scenes are almost static, which heightens the tension and the drama.
|Wil King & Simon Burke, Strangers in Between
Photo: Sarah Walker
Abbie-Lea Hough’s set and costume design is simple but striking. Strips of silver shimmer like the curtain on a nightclub stage; a bath sits in the centre, an inviting and an awkward meeting place. Rob Sowinski’s lighting is subtle but effective and vital to orienting the audience to where the characters are next.
As Shane, Wil King runs a mile-a-minute. His performance captures the nervous tension of the first day on a new job, being away from home for the first time, enthusiastically exploring his sexuality and having outbursts of anger and shame. A creation full of vitality.
Guy Simon and Simon Burke ably support Shane’s first taste of responsibility and a sexually transmitted disease. Burke’s Peter occasionally falls into stereotype, but this feels fitting for Shane’s story and his befriending a world-weary homosexual man who has watched friends die and King’s Cross change. He fits into that world in a way Shane is scared he never will.
Guy Simon playing the dual roles of Will and Ben gets to have fun with contrast; the costume change is the wearing and removal of a red flannel shirt. Will is as outgoing as Ben feels dangerous. And it’s great to see an Indigenous actor on stage in a role not written specifically as Aboriginal.
Strangers in Between is about the families we make as we move out into the world, whether or not we run away from our biological families at the same time. In the decade since this show was first performed around the corner from where it’s set, King’s Cross may have calmed down, marriage equality may be a reality, but coming out can still be a struggle – smart phones or not.
|Guy Simon & Wil King, Strangers in Between
Photo: Sarah Walker
Strangers in Between is currently on at 45 Downstairs in Melbourne until February 11 as part of the Midsumma Festival.
It will then play at the Seymour Centre in Sydney as part of Mardi Gras from February 14 until March 2.
Note: another production of the play is currently on the West End in London. If you’re in London, you should go. It’s a well-reviewed transfer from off-West End from 2016. It closes next weekend.