Behind brotherhood

Nineteen (Wax Lyrical Productions)

Brisbane Powerhouse, Visy Theatre

November 9 – 12

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Wax Lyrical Productions’ dark comedy “Nineteen” begins with a confronting challenge: to consider the reasons behind the four male characters’ behaviour rather than dismissing it as offensive. And what follows is offensive as we see a group of mates in all of their bravodish binge-drinking glory in talk to each other and about women. (The show comes with warning of coarse language, partial nudity and adult themes, drug and alcohol use, smoking, self-harm and sexual themes).

The unapologetically flawed four, friends since a teen pact to always be best mates, live together in a rundown house. With a fridge to keep their beer cold and a toilet the mostly flushes, they seem happy enough, but appearance and reality are out of alignment and it doesn’t take much for the group to change from inseparable mates to lonely individuals.

There is, as narrator of sorts George Mills (Leonard Donahue) reflects, something deeper. Milsey, as he is known, is studying to be a writer so likes to tell stories such as this. It’s a story shared through a foreshadowing lens, as the audience is told early on that one of the four will be soon be dead. Clearly, each one has their demons and, in watching, audience opinion oscillates between whose fate is doomed (not necessarily noticing the hints that are easily acknowledged retrospectively), because being a man is not easy and uncomfortable honest confessions are not always as profound in themselves as they are in their consequences.

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Emotionally vulnerable George, gym obsessed Josh (Jackson McGovern), obliging Adam (Daniel Hurst) and his older, angry brother Noah (Silvan Rus) don’t talk about things in any meaningful way; that’s not what men do. And silence is well used to emphasise the things unsaid. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a less-than-subtle repeat of ‘when you’re a man’ in explanation of perpetuated ‘real-man’ expectations of boorishness and lack of communication.

Staging is naturalistic, allowing for use of all of its space, but with a long rope symbolically webbing its way around the stage. And, the soundscape plays an important part in highlighting the housemates’ hide from their complex inner worlds. What raises the show to greater heights, however, are the performances, particularly those of Hurst and Rus as bantering brothers; it is obvious how talented and committed they are to their performances.

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From beers and brotherhood to loss and loneliness, “Nineteen” uncovers the hidden, toxic aspect of masculinity through its exploration of ‘if only’. Beyond being an exercise in male privilege, it rawly reflects real hopes and fears, having been crafted from interviews with over 90 young people. As such, it reveals not only an unmistakable Australian extreme sense of humour but rips apart the mythology of masculinity, making it an important and necessary work for right now.

Photos c/o – Joel Devereux

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