Wednesday, 7 May 2003

Claustrophobia by Barry Dickins , May 7, 2003

What: Claustrophobia  by Barry Dickins  
Where and When:  La Mama, May 7 to 25, 2003 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Barry Dickins, in Claustrophobia, writes a backhanded look at deaths in custody. It is not what we expect.

John White  (John Francis Howard)  is country cop in the Wimmera.  At the start of the play, we presume that he is the jailer of Bob Black,  (LeRoy Parsons) an aboriginal man who sleeps in the corner of the cell.

White is resentful, menacing and we fear he may be a danger to the sleeping Black. What transpires is that both a inmates in this gloomy country jail but Black is in for a harmless unpaid car registration while White is the one at risk of hanging.

White is frenetic, overcome with fear and claustrophobia and about to be lynched by a mob for drunkenly strangling his wife.

Dickins slowly unfolds their story. Not only are they cellmates they share memories of their childhood friendship.

Black is a cheerful positive and easy-going man - a good foil for White's surly misanthropic attitude.

Dickins resists writing for laughs although the script is still funny. James Clayden's direction seems to miss Dickins' irony on occasion because he often has the actors play the dialogue for truth.

Clayden's pacing of the play does not highlight the richness and balance of humour and poignancy in Dickins' writing.

Parsons is charming s Black, bringing a brightness and openness to the character and the play. There are moments when he is nto quite connected to the style of Dickins' writing but he carries the role successfully.

John F. Howard plays White with an appropriate sense of restrained menace. He seems always on the edge of exploding and we cannot predict whether he is a danger to himself or Black.

The actors are trapped behind a fence of horizontal wire strung across the tiny space at La Mama. The sense of claustrophobia is potent in this production.

Dickins' unusual ironic angle on the topic may not challenge the politics of deaths in custody but it is an interesting piece of theatre.

By Kate Herbert

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