Monday, 11 March 2002
The Bull-Ant , March 11, 2002
by Bill Garner and Sue Gore
at Theatreworks March 11 to 23, 2002
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
"They're funny bastard. And they hurt," says the publicity for The Bull-Ant, written by Bill Garner and Sue Gore.
The Bull-Ant in question refers not only to the grotesque, stinging insect we love to hate in summer. It also refers to writer, Ted Dyson and the acerbic weekly paper he produced from 1890 to 1892.
Dyson has an acid pen and garner and Gore steal his own words from the pages of The Bull-Ant and put them into the mouths of Dyson's alter-egos.
As well as narrating the story as Dyson himself, Garner appears as all the aliases used by Dyson to fill the pages of the paper.
He plays Ginger Steve , the working class punk who covers sports and occasional and hilariously, fashion at the races.
Steve has an old style Aussie slang and battered grammar. Garner portrays him as a bandy-legged, dodgy but lovable street fighter who loves a scrap.
Toby Twist is the effete, pompous wit who writes the theatre reviews. As Toby, Garner poses and ponces about, tearing strips off every show he sees.
Mrs. Grundy is a highlight. Dyson wrote a social column as the Grundy and Garner plays her as a blousey scone-making housewife who critiques every social occasion as if it the Queen's visit.
Garner's performance is charming and he keeps the staging simple allowing Dyson's witty dialogue and his own characters' voices to speak to us.
When he speaks as Dyson himself, we are compelled by this sharp mind that wrote The Golden Shanty, a Gold Rush story many of us read in primary school.
We are also appalled by his blatant racism. His negative attitude to the Chinese and then to the Italians is, sadly, not restricted to his time.
Garner is restricted by the design of the space. In the centre is a relief map of Australia that appears to be a bull ant nest hill. Because it is centre stage, all the action must take place around the edges or at front of the space. This means he can never use the strongest place in the theatre - centre stage.
The dialogue smacks of the period of and his contemporaries, Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson. It is arch and articulate, witty and scathing. We lack that kind of freedom of speech in this politically correct era.
By Kate Herbert