My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe
Fractal Theatre Productions
The Hut, Jean Howie Drive
May 13 – 23 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Love me, love my Holden.
Cars and Australian suburban culture go hand in hand. In 1973, author Henry Williams was working in Brisbane’s Acacia Ridge when he wrote the novel, My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe, an ode to the Holden Monaro centred around a racist, misogynist bully named Ron who’s more than a little obsessed with his dream set of wheels.
Fast-forward to decades later, and the lost Australian classic has been doing the rounds on stage for a few years. If you’ve previously missed what amounts to a black comedy of circus, mime, body percussion, film and car-porn poetry, here’s your chance to check it out. You’ll laugh, and you’ll see the iconic Monaro presented as a living, breathing organism.
Refreshingly, My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe doesn’t contain too much obscene language or the graphic sex and violence that so many writers and directors insist on shoving down our throats at the moment (yes, until we’re gagging on it #sorrynotsorry), yet it’s hard-hitting enough to challenge us on all levels.
Brenna Lee-Cooney’s adaptation of Henry Williams’ classic ode to a car is hardcore Australian theatre at its best. Just as well it’s an intelligent company staging it, or we might miss the awful truth behind its bleak, blokey humour and be left with too-obvious crass nothingness.
Deeply entrenched in our culture, and highlighted by the black comedy in this piece, is the insidious dislike of and blatant disregard for anyone who is not regarded as one of our own. Migrants and the wife (and women in general) cop a hiding in this production, and we never see them get their own back because the revenge plot revolves around racist, misogynist Ron and his need to maintain his unique worldview.
Eugene Gilfedder played the multiple roles at La Boite in 2002 as part of The Holden Plays for the Brisbane (Energex) Festival, with Ian Lawson in the directors’ chair. I suspect this production is slightly different…
It’s a tough little show with moments of fluid, silvery, abstract perfection (in case we weren’t getting the correlation between car bodies and womens’ bodies). The physical theatre is at once strange and perfectly suitable, executed with skill and precision by Vanja Matula, Zoe DePlevitz & Beth Incognito. There’s an element of mime, which brings the action at times to a slow dream-like state – is this really happening?! Hot tip: sit towards the front of the room because there ain’t no tiered seating in the hut on Jean Howie Drive.
Colarelli is in fine form as the abhorrent Ron (don’t call him Ronald!), beautifully weighing up some difficult choices in life, like whether or not to ever speak to the “commo” neighbour again, after he’s unable to identify a 5 / 8 ring spanner. I love Ron’s private moments of contemplation, bathed in deceptively soft white light, little philosophical soliloquies (some are pre-recorded and come across with even more menace as he glares at us), which lead us to gasp or groan aloud at his ignorance and intolerance of others – OH MY GOD. Did he really say that?! Yes. Yes, he did.
Having never read the original text by Henry Williams, the end comes as a complete surprise. The lengths to which the man goes to to exact revenge upon the poor souls who don’t fit his worldview… Really, we should have known. But who could imagine? In the first five minutes of the show we see exactly what sort of man Ron has been taught to be. He’s truly appalling but what the WHAT? WOW.
A lesser actor would make a dog’s breakfast of this role, rushing through the crass comparative comments and hurling rather than snarling insults, or indulging in the wrong moments, missing the point entirely.
The violence of the text is juxtaposed against pure poetry in the movement of DePlevitz, Incognito and Matula. Matula is at his best here, in multiple roles, but especially as that annoying neighbour, Mel Moody.
The ensemble’s strength and poise, and their ability to work in perfect synchronicity (in fantastic shiny speedway gear) underscores some of the most beautiful (and comical) moments in the show. Yes! Despite the dark content and shocking conclusion, My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe is, in parts, actually hilarious…well, horribly so.
Side note: Since I finished feeling sick to my stomach through much of Christos Tsiolkas’s Dead Europe, in the car now I’m listening to Jon Kakauer’s Missoula – Rape and the Justice System in a College Town. Some of the accounts send shivers down my spine. It’s the same discomfort I experience while watching Ron run his hand down the torso of his wife, Rose, as the actor backbends into position to become the car’s gearstick.
DePlevitz is wholly Rose and whatever else is required, in terms of car parts, machinary parts, etc, which gives her reading of the role of Wife-with-a-capital-w a deeply disturbing underlying awareness that maybe, just maybe, she deserves more. Have I ever seen this actor in anything before? If not why not? DePlevitz’s performance is heart-achingly on point.
I can’t imagine what this production would be like without its hardcore garage party soundtrack (with voice/guitar/lyrics & additional music by Finn Gilfedder-Cooney), the sound effects and pre-recorded soliloquies, and strangely colourful lighting states (Sound by Michael Bouwman. Lighting by Geoff Squires. Design Nicole Macqueen). I can’t picture a one-man show now that I’ve seen this ensemble’s polished body percussion and streamlined movement applied in the most imaginative ways I’ve seen outside of an actors’ workshop.
As we realise with horror what’s going to happen, and the play accelerates to reach its inevitable grisly end, I forget for a moment where I am. I’m surprised to find I’m exactly where I started, I haven’t moved, perched on the top of my seat with my feet on the actual seat in order to better see the performers who had begun on the black & white linoleum looking floor. I’m gripping the metal top of the chair.
“I watched my Monaro move off like some proud, doomed galleon…”
Terror. Horror. Unspeakable. I CAN’T EVEN. And then the epilogue. And then a rousing curtain call. And then the cold air outside.
I’m so impressed with this slick production. Lee-Cooney has assembled a stellar cast and turned some old-school theatrical tricks to create a deeply affecting, genuinely thrilling production, which I feel should be re-staged in front of the towering brick walls of Brisbane Powerhouse, filmed professionally and distributed to schools and theatre groups everywhere as an example of LOOK WHAT CAN BE CREATED WITH BODIES AND VOICES AND SOUND AND AN EMPTY SPACE.
Be one of the lucky few to see My Love Had a Black Speed Stripe during Anywhere Theatre Festival and you’ll be hearing for years to come about how so many others regrettably missed it.