He Died with a Felafel in his Hand
Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre
October 1 – 5
Brisbane theatre has always excelled at telling its own stories, yet, in the case of sharing John Birmingham’s ultimate tale of seedy sharehousing, “He Died with a Felafel in his Hand” is inconsistent in its intent.
Much like its novel genesis, the play sees John Birmingham (JB) sharing stories of the dysfunction of a life furnished with brown couches and milk crate fixtures, lived with freaks, geeks, gamers, players, stoners, junkies, flunkies, losers, bruisers, strippers, whippers and moontanners. And, like the novel, there are a lot of stories, meaning a large cast playing an even larger range of characters. To add to the confusion, the show is bookended with “Wayne’s World” style flashback transitions and interposed with moments of metatheatre that ultimately detract from the already segmented stories.
“He Died with a Felafel in his Hand”, the novel, is a cult classic and the production works hard to maintain its graphic extremes, with the inclusion of nudity, drug and sexual references and hilariously grubby dialogue. Indeed, as a novel, the story was grounded in a grungy time. The play, however, destroys this nostalgic appeal through the inclusion of cumbersome Beiber-esque pop-culture references, especially a cringe-worthy “Blurred Lines” twerking number.
While it is clear that the cast are having a great time on stage, this alone is not enough. With fidelity to the novel already (and understandably) disregarded in many aspects, it would have been easy to create a more compact show and eliminate scenes superfluous to the key focus of the tale, such as when JB returns home for a brief stint of co-habitation with his parents. Although the show has too many characters, too much story and is too different from its novel namesake, it is not all bad news; it’s a funny few hours and much better than the Richard Lowenstein movie version that is openly mocked during the performance.