Wednesday, 13 April 2005

Two Brothers by Hannie Rayson, April 13, 2005

 Two Brothers by Hannie Rayson 
Melbourne Theatre Company
 Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, from April 13, 2005
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on April 13, 2005

Although the brawling brothers in Hannie Rayson's play are not the Costellos, there is a passing jocular reference to those real brothers who sit on opposite sides of the political fence.

Two Brothers makes its socio-political attitude crystal clear: Australia has done a great disservice to its refugees with its Pacific Solution and introduction of Temporary Protection Visas.

Brother number one, James "Eggs" Benedict (Garry McDonald) is a conservative politician, the Minister for Home Security who aspires to be Prime Minister.

His brother, Tom, (Nicholas Eadie) is a socialist human rights activist and lawyer working with an Aid agency for asylum seekers.

In the first half, the story is more credible and politically accurate. As Eggs' corruption and ambition escalates on a Macbethian scale, so the story deteriorates into an unbelievable soap opera.

The opening scenes zip along at a rapid pace. Relationships and characters are introduced swiftly, although with limited depth. The narrative was compelling, the jokes frequent and clever and the audience greatly entertained.

Director, Simon Phillips, uses a revolving stage to move quickly and effectively between the short and lively scenes. Dialogue is witty and credible in the first half.

An Iraqi refugee, Hazem Al Ayad, (Rodney Afif) is a client of Tom's and a survivor of the sinking of an Indonesian people smuggling boat on Christmas Day. His entire family drowned and Tom attempts to obtain residency for him.

The pivot of the story is that Eggs is responsible for an Australian Navy boat not saving the refugees. All this is complicated by the fact that Eggs' son, Lachlan (Ben Lawson), was a Gunnery Officer on the ship.

It is difficult to engage with the characters in the second half because of the chaotic and unrealistic situation. The dialogue becomes didactic and characters become ciphers for the play's political statement. Eggs and his assistant, Jamie (Caroline Brazier), become two-dimensional emotional thugs.

The performances are strong from the entire cast, particularly from the leads, Eadie and McDonald and from Afif as the passionate Hazem. Strangely, Hazem is the most believable and certainly the most sympathetic.

The stark chrome and glass design (Stephen Curtis) reflects the steely coldness of the plot and is lit effectively by Nick Schlieper.

A new play inevitably has some glitches. Although Two Brothers is entertaining, its narrative and dialogue need some reworking to give it the punch this topic warrants.

By Kate Herbert

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