I Love You, Bro (That Production Company)
Fire Station 101, Ipswich
March 15 – 25
An ominous soundscape accompanies audience wait before That Production Company’s production of Melbourne-based playwright Adam Cass’ “I Love You, Bro”, which is being presented in a boutique performance space in the heart of the Ipswich CBD at Fire Station 101. This is appropriately followed by the steely-blue dimness of Nathaniel Knight’s lighting and AV design, which meets Peter Keavy’s production design with some binary code accented projections befitting the dark dive into the online world of love and deceit to which we are about to bear witness.
The complex story is of lonely 14-year-old digital chameleon Johnny (Nic Davidson in a role being shared across the season with Jordan Stot), who poses as a girl in an online chatroom and then goes on to begin a digital relationship with an unaware, naïve boy he knows in real life. It is an alarming revelation of just how far some young people will go in construction of their presence, mostly as it is based on true events.
Although in summary, it seems like a quite straightforward story, as Johnny’s updates as to his ‘relationship’ progress through to triple digit days, layers are added to the narrative, especially as he attempts to untangle the deceit by clearing some of his lies aside. After we ease into his Mancunian accent (dialect coach Michael Madalios), we settle into a space of appreciation for Davidson’s storytelling, not least the demand of helming a 90-minute one-hander. There is a lot of nuance to his performance as he switches swiftly in and out of an increasing number of other characters through the physicality of differing stance or how his hoodie is worn, or aggressive sneer, shy smile or knowing nod in emphasis of the comedy inbuilt within Cass’s script. And he especially captures the hyperbolic all-consuming first feels of blossoming love, in no way diminished by its online, as opposed to in-real-life, experience.
Despite its occasional moments of levity, the show is overwhelmingly a tense one, with Chris Patrick Hansen’s sound design giving us little reprieve from the serious turn that the narrative is going to take in trip towards it shocking climax. Lighting also rarely gives remit from walloping the audience with emphasis of the work’s thematic tones, aside from when it is used to characterise Johnny’s long-suffering mother and the toxic interactions with his also unseen stepfather.
While, under Timothy Wynn’s direction, its elements are all cohesive in their singular focus on descent of us towards the story’s tragically true conclusion, things do drag a little in latter sections as Johnny’s lies escalate beyond any rational imagination. Outrageous when told in one sitting rather than over time as played out in reality, the tale of “I Love You, Bro” is quite disturbing in contemplation of how this really has happened, which only adds to its gripping appeal, especially given That Production Company’s refined take on its storytelling.