Wednesday, 16 July 2003

Below by Ian Wilding, July 16, 2003

A CIA(2)  production
La Mama, July 16 to  27, 2003
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Book a ticket now for Ian Wilding 's play, Below, by at La Mama. It has not only an exceptional script but superb acting and skilful direction.

Below was part of the 2000 Griffin Theatre  program in Sydney but in Melbourne it is to be seen at in the intimate space of La Mama in an evocative design by Peter Mumford. It is a gripping, gritty and often funny tale about Dougie  (Joe Clements) and John,  (Stewart Morritt ) two men from the North of England, and Dougie's rather simple Aussie wife, Sarah  (Lisa Angove ).

The two men work in a coal mine in an unnamed Australian town. The labour is gruelling, the mine dangerous and their spirits and health are failing.

Wilding peppers the darkness of their world with some uproarious humour. It highlights the tragedy of their relentlessly awful lives and the spider web in which they find themselves. Wilding unwraps the story like a Russian doll. Each time we think we know their lives we are  surprised by yet another snippet of information, another secret that one or other of the trio has withheld.

Dougie is a likeable spiv who likes to visit the whorehouse and the pub at night. John is more reserved and stays home with Sarah. There is more to this than Dougie knows. Their despair, ignorance and desperation lead to a series of fatal choices on all their parts. These people are doomed from the moment we see them kick off their shoes and suck back a glass of stout.

Clements brings a warmth and haplessness to Dougie, who, ironically, seems to hold the power in his home but is victimised at the mine.

Morritt plays John with a calm dignity and passion. He makes us hope John can achieve his dream to leave the mine and the horrid town. As the submissive and uncomprehending Sarah, Angove is sympathetic.

Director, Phil Roberts,  allows the characters, dialogue and relationships to do the work. He directs with a slick hand but does not impose any unnecessary colour on this already vivid story.

The pace is cracking and allows the natural dynamic range of the play to lead us on a helter skelter journey with these maddening, lovable and damaged people.

By Kate Herbert

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