Wednesday, 27 January 1999

Mates by Tom Lindstrom, 27 Jan 1999

 La Mama at The Courthouse from 26 Jan 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Some old blokes talk about the war. Others stay mute. The three battered old veterans of Changi in Tom Lindstrom's play, Mates, reminisce incessantly. The only worthy interruptions to their chain of memories are a swig of Glenfiddich or the threat of incontinence

The characters and their stories are engaging, if repetitive. It is Anzac Day, 1991. Stan (Cliff Ellen) lies in a private hospital room awaiting an operation to confirm his death sentence: liver cancer it seems. But no digger who marches each year can let the day pass without seeing his mates.

His best mate, Streaky Bacon (John Flaus) appears with a surprise visitor. Sunny (Malcolm Robertson) is well off, pissed off and smells off because of his bowel condition. They are the Musketeers, quips Sunny: Athos, Pathos and Bathos.

Mates, directed by Melanie Beddie and Malcolm Robertson, was originally written for the "Australia Remembers" celebrations. It is character- rather than plot- driven, having very little narrative development Lindstrom relies on the revelation of relationships between characters and the war stories which have obsessed them for 47 years since they were dumped on our shores by our government which was as insensitive to its soldiers at the end of the war as it was at the beginning.

Sunny, played with a fine blend of passion and humour by Robertson, is a tyrannical, tragic, misogynistic, almost brutish boozer who lost his special mate during the war. He rants at the injustice of Streaky and Stan still having each other.

Streaky we know mostly as Stan's mate. He is reflected through the eyes of his friend who faces his own last weeks. Flaus portrays his humanity and steadfastness with sensitivity.

It is Stan who is the pivot of the story. It is the final leg of his return journey from Changi and his making peace with his demons that comprise the body of the play. Ellen's laconic delivery works well but it is his final scene which steals the show. It is beautifully balanced and poignant expresson of friendship and loss.

This last scene is the strongest piece of writing in the play and is worth the wait. The dialogue is less self-conscious and the relationship between Stan and Streaky is finally allowed to be intimate without Sunny's boisterous interruptions. The unevenness of earlier scenes is forgiven.

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