11
Jun
12

The Truth About Kookaburras

The Truth About Kookaburras

La Boite Indie & Pentimento Productions

The Roundhouse

6th – 23rd June 2012

On Saturday night, the men in the audience at The Roundhouse far outnumbered the women. Had they seen The Truth About Kookaburras at Metro Arts in 2009? Had they heard about it? What had they heard? I’d heard that there would be many naked men on stage but that the play “isn’t about the nudity”. It’s about a murder that occurs during a buck’s party, held in the locker room of the Gold Coast Kookaburras Football Club and the mystery of “what it is to be a man”.

I daresay I’ll be the only person in the world to feel this way about this incredible play. Or perhaps I’ll be the only one to say so. You see, it’s absolutely brilliant. But it’s not quite there yet. It seems it’s esteemed playwright, Edward-Who’s-Afraid-of-Virginia-Woolf-Albee, who is to blame for the issues I have with this, the first production of La Boite’s Indie program for 2012, Sven Swenson’s re-worked epic, The Truth About Kookaburras.

Apparently, when workshopping the play with Albee, Swenson was advised, “Never permit it to be done without nudity. Don’t allow yourself to be talked into cleaving it into two acts. Don’t ever shorten it. Don’t become convinced to amalgamate roles and reduce the cast.”

Let’s look at these pearls of wisdom, shall we?

Nudity

The play opens on an empty locker room at the Gold Coast Kookaburras headquarters, which gradually fills with naked men. And by fills, I mean that there are enough of them to literally fill the small space that is the La Boite Indie stage. The play would work better in the round (or in Jupiter’s Casino) but that means – surely – another creative development phase before it earns a mainstage season. It’s an indulgent but rather clever, multi-layered text that you can read yourself, thanks to Playlab’s new digital publication series (Playab Indie).

For fifteen minutes, naked men appear from out of the showers, one after the other after the other and we look at – or try not to look at – the many, many flaccid penises on stage. It’s not a pretty sight. Sorry, boys but it’s not. Swenson recently told Zenobia Frost, in an interview for RAVE magazine that he believes “the most compelling and arresting visual image of masculinity is surely an army of naked men.” Perhaps it is…if that army of naked men is as ripped as QTC’s Romeo and Juliet boys were (credit where credit’s due) and their members stand as erect as the men themselves, sure. But try putting an erect penis on a Queensland stage. Twenty-two of them in fact. And for fifteen minutes! In this case, the “army” more closely resembles a sad, impotent, insecure gang of little boys who need to perform dick tricks and indulge in gratuitous antics to prove their (false) bravado to the fellas who are supposed to be their “mates”.

The Truth About Kookaburras

Image by Kate O’Sullivan.

And I’m sorry but I don’t get the penis humour. I don’t understand the culture of the male locker room. I know that there’s a demographic in every city who do appreciate this brand of comedy – I used to sell cigarettes to them in dodgy clubs and pubs – but personally, I’ve never understood how people can speak to each other the way that these guys do, with so little regard for another person’s feelings. What does it prove? What sort of man is it that treats a person so appallingly? I can see that we’re trying to understand men and their insecurities. I can see that it takes time to establish the confusion and complexities of being a man. We don’t often talk openly about the way men fit into the world and clearly we need to. But is this play the vehicle for it? Will it reach enough people? Would it work better as a screenplay? Would it get closer to the truth if it were Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman discussing the big issues on the big screen? (Well, of course it would!). Does it really get us any closer to, “What it is to be a man”? As it is, it certainly gets us talking so perhaps, on that point alone, it serves a valuable purpose and the potential to take it to the broader market will be recognised eventually.

It certainly reveals more than you might expect but if it’s really just the full frontal nudity you’re after, I think your money might be better spent on a night with the Chippendales or on some of the better Internet porn sites. (Trekkie Monster was right all along!).

For me, Kookaburras contains too much nudity for too long without good reason. It doesn’t last long enough “for people to realise what a big deal it isn’t,” it lasts long enough to be ineffective dramatically. It loses impact. The dick tricks, the narcissistic mirror play (do let me know if all that mirror acting works for you), the play fights and the real fights are quite simply uninteresting after the first six or seven minutes. (That’s not to say that the simulated footy, choreographed by Brian Lucas and the fight sequences, choreographed by Justin Palazzo-Orr are lacking in any way. They just need more space to make them look spectacular). And while I appreciate that there has been some research done and that conversations with legitimate footballers have taken place, I find it hard to believe that there is not even a modicum of modesty amongst this group, who are not, as we discover, all that they seem. So many characters and so little, when they are naked, to differentiate one from another; I would just like to have seen the extent of male nudity be used to better effect than to try to prove a political point.

On that (political point), I was surprised to see later, the female stripper do her thing…topless. Only topless. Now, I know this play is not about her (far be it from the stripper to become a distraction in the midst of all that male soul-searching) and I know Swenson feels that women and not men have been made to get their gear off in plays for too long (“He didn’t think that was fair.”) but I think an entire truth was missed there. Again, dramatically, it was an interesting choice. “Perhaps having more male nudity on stage might legitimise the relative frequency with which we ask it of women.” No, Sven, the authenticity of the story telling and the believability of the acting within the context of whatever story is being told is what legitimises female nudity in the theatre.

Warning: shameless self-promotion.

For a case in point, if it interests you (call it “research”), see Erotique at Noosa Arts Theatre during the Noosa Longweekend, in which nudity is not gratuitously used but, within the context of the story telling, becomes a vital element, both in character and plot development. Right. Shameless self-promotion over. Back to Kookaburras, which is not even about the nudity but phew! What a relief it is to see everybody dressed! “We see much more clearly who each character is once they are dressed and wearing the garb that identifies them to the outside world.” True. The stellar performances in the end come from Cameron Sowden (Mick), Jason McKell (Two-Shoes), Zachary Boulton (Goony) and Kieran Law (Toaster). You can read the complete biographies of all cast members by downloading the online program.

Jason McKell. Image by Kate O’Sullivan.

Don’t allow yourself to be talked into cleaving it into two acts. Don’t ever shorten it.

Mr Albee, why would you say that?! The play is too long! Act 2 is superfluous and once the premise has been established during the opening fifteen minutes of the play, it is reinforced ad nauseam for the next fifty! Seriously, an hour of swinging dicks and putting down mates is too long! With a more concise story, the police investigation incorporated as it is – a clever device and less of it would work even more efficiently – one interval would suffice.

When we were in Sydney in 2011 for the Sydney Children’s Festival, I booked tickets and took our troupe to see Darlinghurst Theatre Company’s production of Alex Broun’s 10 000 Beers, directed by Lee Lewis (Director of La Boite’s last production, A Hoax). Other than my husband, who grew up in a sports-mad household, none of us even knew which code we were about to see. Football is football is football, right? That’s right. Footy novices. Mixed reviews, from us and from the Sydney critics, discussed the value of accurately reflecting the typical Australian loutish and lewd behaviour on stage (ie what can be gained from it apart from appealing to base humour?) and dispelling the myths of men in sport. Neither Broun’s 10 000 Beers nor Swenson’s Kookaburras successfully dispel any of the myths or media hype (both perpetuate the myths and reinforce the stereotypes), however; the latter tries harder. Without offering an answer, in Kookaburras, we take a look at male identity, feminine and masculine roles in society, pack mentality, the notion of mateship, male depression, homophobia and homoeroticism. This piece could start with Act 3 and delve deeper into some of these issues.

Image by Kate O’Sullivan.

Don’t become convinced to amalgamate roles and reduce the cast.”

If I were producing, I would want the roles amalgamated and the cast size reduced. Why not cast fewer actors who can capably play multiple roles? (Some of the actors in this production, unfortunately, struggle to believably portray just one). In its current form, Kookaburras is positively Chekhovian and it need not be. We might get to know the characters a little better and care a little more for them, if we see fewer of them, in greater detail, for (just a little bit) longer.

The strongest of the three acts, the final boasts the best acting of the night and allows us to get to the bottom of the story and understand more about the lives and motives of a couple of the characters. It’s what we’ve been waiting for! The mystery is solved but nothing is really resolved. Men (particularly men involved in sport) are still a mystery and will continue to behave badly, despite their private revelations and their efforts to nurture healthy relationships and a noble – or something – identity. What is it to be a man? Well, I don’t know. And I don’t think you’ll know either, from seeing this play but at least you’ll be challenged to think on it and discuss the big issues with some mates over a few beers.

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1 Response to “The Truth About Kookaburras”


  1. 1 Samuel B
    June 16, 2012 at 2:01 am

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when it comes to the issues with the text. Looking at all the roles, I think about 6 of the ensemble could have been cut, and it would have also been easy to condense other roles – it would have made the piece shorter, without much consequence. Saying that, the 3 hours didn’t feel like they were dragging on and I thought the piece overall was okay. It was like an episode of Law & Order.


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