20
May
13

Sons of Sin

Sons of Sin

Judith Wright Centre & The Danger Ensemble

Judith Wright Centre

17th – 25th May 2013

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward and Meredith McLean

 

Featuring: Alex FowlerWilliam HoranThomas HutchinsAaron WilsonRon SeetoChris FarrellSamuel SchoessowCharlie Schache & Stephen Quinn

 

 

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What makes a man a man?

 

 

SONS OF SIN, The Danger Ensemble’s most provocative production to date, lays bare the hopes, dreams and expectations of young men moving through rites of passage and across a minefield of history, pressures, demands and taboos towards manhood.

 

Classical text collides with raw confession. A lone voice stands against a call of the pack. Killers rise, angels fall. Love and brotherhood survive.

 

 

 

”Perhaps one of the most dangerous things is a kid who thinks he’s a man.”

Anna Krien Night Games

 

 

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I haven’t noticed anybody jumping up and down, and shouting at the top of his or her voice to go see this show but I hope you’re not taking any notice of those who are muttering, “Don’t bother.” This is a particular type of theatre. It’s not “nonsense” and its not “a complete fucking waste of time”, but it is anywhere between ninety minutes and just over two hours of your life that you won’t get back, and I question its purpose and its impact on audiences. You’re either gonna’ love it or hate it. But don’t miss it.

 

After an hour and forty minutes I actually left, the show clocked in at just a little more than two hours. Wearing heels was a big mistake; if I’d known how long we’d be standing I would’ve sacrificed fabulousness for comfort. I recommend flat shoes if you go. M

 

  • Wear flat shoes and dark colours (boots and jeans and something with pockets, you know, like, if you search my Facebook photos for long enough, what you would have seen me in during the Mt Isa years)
  • Stay against the walls if you don’t want to get wet (and that’s not just water we’re talking about, that’s beer, paint and bodily fluids we’re talking about!)
  • Drink (a lot) before the show. Or don’t…

 

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The question is: did Sons of Sin get boring because my feet hurt or did my feet hurt because the show was boring? M

 

I kinda’ wish I’d had more to drink before stepping inside the belly of this show and it’s intense insane drinking game. Of course I was driving, so I enjoyed a cab sav at the glass bar next door with the show’s director, Steven Mitchell Wright, director of The Judy, Ruth Hodgman, Program Manager at The Judy, Lewis Jones, and The Courier Mail’s Nathanael Cooper. Instead of the vino, we should have had several rounds of Truth or Dare tequila shots, which would have better set the tone for the evening. But in retrospect, I’m glad I wasn’t the one throwing up in a bathtub centre stage…

 

There is no hesitation from any of the Sons of Sin. Peeing in a bathtub? Sure, why not. Strip tease? That’s the tamest part of the show. I’m really torn on how to respond to this. Imagine a giant interactive game of King’s Cup… I remember them fondly from my college days. Actually, that’s a lie; no one remembers anything if they play King’s Cup properly. But like any game of King’s Cup, the players and onlookers get bored as the cards get repetitive and the players get so drunk everything descends into chaos. 

 

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Brevity is lacking, and in some instances, so is sincerity. Before I departed I could almost hear it in the voices of these men. Was it the third King by then? God, we’re tired. There were moments of sadness for the sake of sadness, controversy for the sake of controversy.

 

Provocation is nothing but crudeness if it’s forced. M

 

I’m actually completely stunned by this production, and not in a buzzing, amazing, WOW! kinda’ way. A perverse “fuck you” at religion and women, The Danger Ensemble’s Sons of Sin is as impressive in parts as it is disappointing. So already, I’m telling you, if you’re at all curious about this show, go see it…at least half of it! I think they lost about forty percent of their opening night audience when they foolishly took a “drinks break” (no break for the actors, they came out to the bar with us and tried their best to boost bar sales); a strange interlude, which many took as their only chance of escape! ROOKIE ERROR.

 

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It’s not that the show was unbearable – well, I was tired and it was getting close to unbearable by 9:05pm – but this is a show destined for greater things, and it’s as if this is the out of town try-out…in town. Unfortunately for The Danger Ensemble, most of the problems might have been remedied during the rehearsal process, if only there had been a realistic look at things, including the show’s duration, repetition, efficiency and potential impact on audiences. I know Steven invited randoms via social media into the rehearsal room the week prior to opening, and I know there were changes made in the space of 24 hours, between the preview and opening night, but here is our strongest case yet for the addition of a few more previews to the season. With Broadway money, Broadway shows might enjoy (not sure if enjoy is the right word!) up to thirty previews with paying audiences in attendance before critics are invited in, and changes are made throughout that process, as the writers and producers gauge audience reactions to their material, and make adjustments accordingly, as in the case of shows such as Cinderella and Kinky Boots.

 

Purporting to lay bare the hopes, dreams and expectations of young men, Sons of Sin begins beautifully (“Never use the word ‘beautiful’…men are not beautiful”), with a pre-show ritual involving nudity and blindfolds (not what you think!). The actors share the same space as the audience and let us exist there and watch, in our own discomfort or curiousity (or whatever), allowing us time to adjust, and to accept that anything could happen. And anything – and everything – does.

 

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Ben Judd ‘reckons this is a show that “under-skilled theatre writers would describe as a stylistic gang-bang” and he’s right…there’s a bit more to it. It seems a shallow exploration of what it is to be a man…but thank Allah, Buddha, God and Jesus most of us know there is more to most men than the stereotypical beer-swilling footy bogan living on campus during uni years, which appears to be the popular character choice here. The other popular version of a man is the confused (or not) gay one (I wasn’t sure). It’s a shame we don’t see much of “what it is to be a man” outside of these realms.

 

Sons of Sin left me utterly exhausted, bewildered and depressed. If this is it, if this is all that young men are hoping, expecting and dreaming, the world is in a bigger mess than we thought. If that’s the message of this piece it’s a real downer, and it comes predictably after a while, and then repetitively, for TWO HOURS of standing around the edges of the space and being herded like cattle in order to gain the best vantage points for various “scenes”. I was surprised when the show kept going and going…after about nine o’clock I was anticipating the card-carrier chicks or the director to step in and surreptitiously scoop up at least five or six superfluous cards, bringing us nearer the end much earlier.

 

The success of this type of theatre depends largely upon the continuing acceptance of the audience; the fact that they are happily rather than reluctantly still playing along. If the energy begins to lag, if disinterest sets in, it can be felt and a savvy company will accept that this is part of the experiment – part of the experience – and either up the anti or get to the end of the show without further ado. In this case, there would have been nothing lost by doing so except perhaps a couple of strokes to egos.

 

I loved the set up: the drinking game using super size playing cards, the circular staging in the massive, open space and the use of scaffold, and an impressive (at least the first and second times it was used) art gallery style reveal, the lighting (Ben Hughes), the sound (Henry Collins). I especially loved the Beyonce mash-up and dance sequence – a good seven or eight minutes of it – featuring, not by accident, obviously, Thomas Hutchins & Chris Farrell.

 

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The random acts continued as random cards were selected from the floor. Picking up the King card dictated that some sort of sad confessional be delivered during contemplative clockwise and then anti-clockwise circling of the bathtub. The problem with all three monologues is in the writing; each might have been more effective had it been improvised. The subject matter is clichéd and each conclusion is so typical that we’re not shocked, surprised, reassured or inspired by any of the pieces. The monotonous (some would say “stylised”) delivery tone of each, consistent throughout the show, doesn’t help us accept the subject matter. It was a relief to hear the whooping and shouting of the company at the conclusion of each card-induced state. *pours the remainder of a bottle of beer into bath tub*

 

I don’t want to put a damper on the show though. It was at times beautiful, at others hilarious and even terrifying. One of the funnier and more natural moments was when the audience was invited to ask one of the sons a question that had to be answered by him truthfully. One woman took possession of the microphone and spewed forth some long-winded question about white middle class males having it easy (and some additional feminist jargon, which I struggled to listen to). The boy on trial shouted over her, true to character, “This is fucking boring!” and when the woman implored the crowd, “Is this question really boring?” some mumbled inaudibly while others yelled, “YES!” Shunned to a corner,  she provided an amusing turn to the live theatre element. M

 

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For the actors, Sons of Sin provides a full inventory of emotional and physical risk-taking opportunities. This is a bunch of super confident performers. I can imagine the only question asked of potential company members might have been not, “What can you do?” but “Is there anything you won’t do?”

 

Still, I’ve seen better treatment of the epic, the appalling, and the intriguing by The Danger Ensemble; The Hamlet Apocalypse blew my mind, and I was fascinated by Loco Maricon Amor. Likewise, I loved much of Children of War. But in these previous productions – a stronger narrative featured in each – there appeared to be little or no attempt to be risqué or shocking for the sake of it; no false agenda to fit anybody else’s idea of what The Danger Ensemble does or doesn’t do. The Danger Ensemble, from what I can gather, continue to do whatever the hell they like. And sure, there’s an audience for that! As well as actors lining up in the wings for a chance to work with the company. Perhaps this production is to prove that, once and for all, The Danger Ensemble are a force unto themselves.

 

I still have some questions.

 

 

Why do we make theatre? Who is the work for?

 

 

The Dare

Do we need to see an actor scull two bottles of beer and vomit into the tub?

 

Do we need to see an actor piss into the tub? (I spoke with Prue, the chick who had offered the piss-in-the-tub dare and I was not at all surprised to find out she felt absolutely mortified! She hadn’t expected the actor to do it!).

 

Do we need to see another guy make out with Anna? Well, all right, you got me; that one was extremely entertaining.

 

The Truth

Mini scenes came out of truth-telling sessions, utilising audience members where necessary, to play out the scene at the heart of the matter. Do the only important truths revolve around menstrual blood, masturbation, and sexual relations with one’s mother? Really? I hope I’m not wrong when I give most men greater credit than that.

 

Sadly, we see only evidence of strippers, sex changes, simulated rape and gang rape, torture, Truth or Dare, drinking games and nights of debauchery. Such is the (ever amusing) stuff of men. Apparently.

 

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What I LOVE about this show is its sensational imagery. Steven Mitchell Wright is a master painter, using actors and theatrical tricks like there’s no budget bed time tomorrow to create pictures of such intensity that there are times when I have to look away. But getting from one picture to the next is a frustrating, tedious task, which could be made much less painful by simply bypassing a lot of self-indulgent study of a very narrow view of man, and speeding up the process so that we enjoy more of the show. To be fair, a few punters obviously enjoyed the whole thing a lot more than I did. There is more good stuff going on here than bad, but it’s not my kinda’ stuff.

 

It’s a long, repetitive production that, reshaped and reborn, will make perfect fringe festival fodder. For me, a memorable show – for all the right reasons – comes down to experiencing moments. My favourite moment? Thom’s tears (apparently he never cries in this segment), during prolonged eye contact with a girl from the crowd, as he delivers to her a tender, heartfelt monologue. She is captivated. We are given the chance to hold our collective breath. It’s a moment of rare beauty.

 

 

“Never use the word ‘beautiful’…men are not beautiful”.

 

 

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I wish there had been more beautiful moments. The actors are up for it. The audience is up for it. I don’t think we saw all of what makes a man a man… At least, I hope we did not.

 

As Steven said, “I don’t think we struggle to watch violence at all.  I think we are largely comfortable as a culture with violence. I think we find beauty, honesty and sensuality much more confronting.”

 

Personally, I abhor violence and I struggle to watch it in any form. Why do I need to see it at all?

 

 

Bring on the beauty.

 

 

These are some of the things I look forward to seeing a glimpse of again – beauty, honesty and sensuality – in Steven’s next production: The Wizard of Oz, for La Boite.

 

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1 Response to “Sons of Sin”


  1. 1 Stephen Moore
    May 22, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    One thing I found disturbing was the blurring of the line between actor and character. I think it is dangerous territory when the audience is dragged into the private world of the people performing; at least that is what we are expected to believe.
    The best aspect of this production were the nine young male performers. One of the worst aspects was the nine young male performers. While this piece was about young males, the young don’t usually have the life experience to tell the stories, nor the depth of performance experience (especially vocal work) to bring the stories to life.
    At the preview performance it seemed the evening was about titillating the audience with schoolboy humour.


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