Saturday, 7 July 2012

The McNeil Project, July 6, 2012

The Chocolate Frog & The Old Familiar Juice - 2 plays by Jim McNeil
Produced by Wattle We Do Next Productions & Auspicious Arts
fortyfivedownstairs, July 6 to 29, 2012
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on July 6
Stars: **** (4)

 Luke McKenzie, Cain Thompson

 Cain Thompson, Richard Bligh, Luke McKenzie
Jim McNeil, not your everyday, bleeding-heart playwright, was gaoled for armed robbery and shooting a policeman in 1967 and, while incarcerated in Parramatta Correctional Centre, he wrote several compelling and shocking plays.

The McNeil Project features The Chocolate Frog and The Old Familiar Juice, two menacing plays with sharply observed dialogue that are set within the confines of a shared prison cell.

In The Chocolate Frog, two dangerous, prison-hardened inmates (Luke McKenzie, Cain Thompson) put young, university educated, new arrival, Kevin (Will Ewing), on trial for being a ‘dog’, a ‘chocolate frog’, meaning a dobber or snitch.

The Old Familiar Juice starts playfully but degenerates into dangerous territory when three inmates  (McKenzie, Thompson, Richard Bligh) get drunk on a yeasty concoction and the youngster (Thompson) is at risk of rape.

Malcolm Robertson’s deft direction and uncluttered staging keep the focus firmly on the characters and their threatening relationships.

The plays’ challenging subjects and surprisingly universal themes raise issues about rules, ethics and morality and the clash of differing codes of conduct inside and outside prison walls.

All the performances are powerful and suspenseful making the stage feel dangerous with relationships between these disenfranchised, damaged outsiders balanced on a knife’s edge.

McKenzie is intimidating as two high status, top dog characters, Thompson captures the volatile Tosser and vulnerable Stanley, Bligh is delightful as Dadda, the sozzled old, mediator and Vietnam veteran, while Ewing embodies the naïvete and ignorance of an educated outsider.

By Kate Herbert

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