A wheel of
A flock of
sisters holding a man at gunpoint, demanding to know what he’s doing in their
field in the middle of the night.
younger sister, who isn’t holding the gun, is having a laugh at the whole
situation. Is this stranger out there fondling the sheep? Is he doing it in the
middle of the night so he won’t get caught? She lets him know he’d probably get
away with it during the day, because there’s no one around for miles.
older sister, has the weight of the family farm on her shoulders and this young
man at the end of the gun can’t know if she’ll shoot or not. He’s terrified.
scene of Gundog is full of tension punctuated by Becky’s weird and wild
observations of the world and the situation the three of them find themselves
in. It’s hard to know why she feels so carefree about joking while this poor
Guy (he tells them that’s his name) cowers, begging for his life. It’s funny,
but the kind of funny that audiences tread carefully around. Some of us were chuckling
and the rest of the crowd was deathly silent.
Anna’s parents are dead. Their brother is estranged. And the sheep they are
tending, they admit, are not theirs. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
these are the last three people in the whole world. Who’s to say in the middle of
the night in the darkness of the countryside?
play – first staged at London’s Royal Court theatre in 2018 – is a story about
trauma and being unable to escape the cycle of family grief. The show turns
backwards and forwards in time, the large circle of dried grass in the centre
of this stage is an unmoving turntable, around which the characters run forward
and fall backward.
their brother and uncle in earlier times, even before they have lost their dad –
though he haunts their lives and the family farm years before he’s actually
gone. Clearly, the family is trapped here, on a patch of dirt they have live on
for years or decades – unable to escape.
play was written by a British playwright, the text doesn’t specify a time or a
place that it’s set. This production has chosen to set it in England, the cast employing
accents from all over the UK for some reason. The inconsistency here made me
wish they had chosen to set it in Australia, given its rural location and
brother Ben’s suspicion of foreign worker, Guy. The dry patch of grass evoked
outback Australia to me, though I guess climate change is slowly drying out the
United Kingdom as well.
Dudek as Becky is the stand-out on stage, creating a complicated figure, whose
jokes are for sure a coping mechanism but also an insight into the character’s
optimistic outlook amongst her bruised and broken family members. Dudek is a
real delight to watch.
Mick brings the family comedy/tragedy centre stage when we travel back in time
to deal with the children’s uncle losing his marbles. His rambling story was
funny once, but as he told and retold it, we could see the true pain the
character was in. It’s a wonderful performance.
though the rest of the ensemble has their moments to shine, they often feel
like they were working at cross-purposes rather than bouncing off each other. Alonso
Pineda’s direction is not clear enough to bring out the depths in the text or
make the ensemble feel cohesive.
There are beautiful
moments in the show, though. Harrie Hogan’s Lighting and Sam Porter’s Sound
Design create an odd other-worldly quality as the play bounces backward and
forward, the characters unstuck in time, unable to outrun or outgrow their
trauma. The final scene, as the three children grapple with their place in an
uncaring universe, is very moving. Unfortunately, most of the production doesn’t
contain that level of clarity or insight.
Gundog reaches deep into the heart of
rural communities left to rot but this production trades too much on the grief
and trauma and doesn’t let the comedy and the true absurdity of the play sing.
- Keith Gow, Theatre First
Photo by Zoe Hawkins