Posts Tagged ‘katy warner

26
Aug
19

Spencer

 

Spencer

QUT Gardens Theatre & LAB Kelpie

QUT Gardens Theatre

August 23 – 24 2019

 

Reviewed by Shannon John Miller

 

 

One of the final scenes from the 1994 film Muriel’s Wedding has Muriel played by Toni Collette and her father played by Bill Hunter, looking out over a scorched laundry line and backyard in the aftermath of a devastating family tragedy. Her sister appears on the balcony saying, “Dad, the cricket’s started. […] Do you want me to open you a can of beer? Bill responds, “That would be lovely, Joanie. With you in a sec.”

 

While essentially a comedy-drama, Spencer, a new work by award-winning playwright, Katy Warner, much like Muriel’s Wedding, is a dark idiosyncratic work epitomising the cultural cringe of the Australian suburban family. With themes of social isolation, suburbia and family dysfunction, it also touches on how masculine sport culture can serve as a family’s surrogate emotional connective tissue.

 

 

Set over the course of a weekend, Ben (Lyall Brooks) is still living at home; an overweight X-Gen who’s failed to launch and broken up with his fiancé now facebooking from Bali with a guy who was at their engagement party. His sister, Jules (Fiona Harris) has also returned home to live. She’s quit her job and is also in the midst of a messy break up with a married man who has kids of his own.

 

But as far as their single mother, Marylin (Jane Clifton) is concerned they live in the shadow of their younger brother, Scott (Jamieson Caldwell), the white-haired boy. On the precipice of a professional AFL career and while he’s the favourite, he’s also returned home burnt-out and at a crossroads in life. He’s also about to meet the two-year-old son, Spencer, he never knew he had. And while mum’s forgiving and excited in preparing for Spencer’s welcome home-cum-birthday party, things really get going when they receive an unexpected visit from their long-estranged father, Ian (Roger Oakley).

 

 

Clifton is magnanimous in playing the central matriarch, Marylyn; a role certain to become a staple in a contemporary actor’s repertoire. She’s an exhausted Sisyphus, while having spent  her life pushing the heavy boulder of a broken family up hill, she finds herself having to revisit the role as mother and peace-keeper later in life as her failed flock come home to roost, now adults and this time with more complex social baggage than just scraped knees and spilt Coco Pops.

 

While funny and acid-tongued, Clifton is brilliant, lashing out at her disappointing adult-children, and trying to counsel them through an unqualified lens of embittered motherly love. She’s cynical, a misanthrope, however living unrealised dreams naively through her young son, Scott, never realising the crushing burden it causes him.

 

 

This is wildly entertaining and funny stuff though. Brooks as Ben is vivacious as he channels Rick Mayall of the Young Ones and Perry Heslop of Muriel’s Wedding. Now washed-up and coaching a kids footy team, he’s an alternate masculinity in comparison to his more successful, more popular, and fitter younger brother, Scott. Ben’s a mummy’s boy, he grew up crying at everything, and while he isn’t afraid to express his emotions, he wants Scott to succeed where he failed.

 

Scott on the other hand, in his mother’s eyes, is on a pedestal of masculine pride. While seemingly mild-mannered, fit and handsome with a promising career verging on the celebrity, he’s got skeletons, he’s an emotional void, a purposeful blank onto which his mother projects her own ideals.

 

Scott can do no wrong, and his mother, an apologist to his mistakes, cannot see the real Scott due to blinding disenchantments with her own life. Scott, however, is disconnected with the world. He’s unable to articulate his emotions, unable to reconcile past machismo behaviours, and his return home prompts a spiralling identity crisis.

 

 

Playwright Warner isn’t afraid to take her characters where they need to go, tackling men’s mental health and the double standards of sexual politics. Meryl Streep opined recently that terms like toxic masculinity “hurts our boys”, and in the aftermath of the #metoo movement, Warner also raises questions of internalised misogyny, slut-shaming, revenge porn, and the casualised sex-discrimination which pervades the home.

 

It’s also about our identity and how that sits within the family dynamic. And it’s set masterfully against the backdrop of an economic generation of failed social refugees who’ve found themselves returning home in their 30’s.

 

 

Director, Sharon Davis expertly delivers the actors to beautifully crystalised moments of self-reflection or further delusion. She brings them together in remarkably playful and innovative ways, further developing them into full characters with lived-in relationships.

 

Set designers, Rob Sowinski and Bryn Cullen have created a simple diorama of an ancient 80’s/90’s domestic sphere with archways leading into linoleum kitchens, the rattle and slam of the obligatory security screen door, and clusters of family photos while polluting the walls, point to the innocence of once happier days.

 

Much like The Castle and Kath & Kim, Spencer is an exciting and important work which beautifully typifies an Australian domestic heritage; a time capsule of contemporary life as we know it.