Malthouse Theatre and Arena Theatre
8 August 2007
Merlyn Theatre, CUB Malthouse
As Criminology is inspired by the true events of Joe Cinque’s murder in 1997 (detailed in the program if you don’t know), the audience know that, after the dinner party, Una will drug her boyfriend with rohypnol and inject him with heroin until he is dead. How this Malthouse/Arena co-production get us to the final murder is the making or breaking of this work. The resulting path is a mixture of terrains that makes the journey awkward, but enjoyable.
The script was co-written by Lally Katz (The Eisteddfod) and Tom Wright (Babes in the Wood). Both playwrights have very different styles and voices, which can both be heard in the script. Sometimes they are fighting to dominate and at others they reached a compromise that was adequate, but– like most compromises – wasn’t strong or especially pleasing. When Lally’s dialogue won the fight, it brought a stilted absurdity to the characters, which forced us to listen and question the situation; whereby the more natural dialogue and situations, ironically, made the story seem less real and therefore able to be dismissed.
Una and the boyfriend are stalked and guided by their own inner demons; made real as anonymous, masked ragers or 1987cultual icons. This worked as a concept, but wasn’t working very well on the stage. It took me to the final scene to figure out what the masked characters actually were. As their role was confusing, they distracted from, instead of supporting, the accompanying action. Una’s conversations with Diana (it was the car crash year) are a perfect representation of eating disorder/beauty fixation and obsession with being loved/admired and always right. The other icons (Michael Hutchence, Mother Theresa and Tommy Lee Jones from Men in Black) were funny, but didn’t appear to support the story or its journey. The presentation of them as backwards facing puppets seemed to have little purpose, beyond a site gag.
Given the themes and issues surrounding Una are not restricted to 1997 and the story isn’t dependent on the on the facts of the case, I wonder if the placement in a specific era was necessary. Certainly it gave us a divine opening scene discussing the film Titanic against a swirling cosmos and allowed a purging scene with Princess Di after a shot of ipecac. The specific dates make us look at the era (which was only 10 years ago) for the answers, instead of really exploring the motivations and psyche of the characters.
Placing it in Canberra was entirely necessary though. This script captured the 20 something, wealthy, bored, ANU student, inner city Canberra lifestyle to perfection. I lived in Canberra for a time (I should point out that I was well out of that age demographic and not a student). I would have picked the city as Canberra, even if it wasn’t named. I admit that I was the soul person in the audience who laughed out loud at the joke about it being a sadder death than when “that girl got hit by shards of hospital”. For others who have escaped life in our capital, take some comfort in one of the final lines of the show: “You’re so fucking beautiful, but you never belonged in Canberra”.
Bojana Novakovic as Una is the most memorable performance of the cast. She has a naturalness that makes it look like her characterisation is effortless and she created an understanding of Una that explained the inevitability of her final actions. We are never meant to like her or support her, but Bojana let us see her real pain and compulsion. Her scenes with Hazen Shammas (who never talks as the doomed boyfriend) were especially compelling.
Criminology aims to shock and tries as hard as it can. The sex and drugs aren’t nearly as shocking as they make them out to be. I’d like to see more focus on shocking us through the thoughts of the characters, rather than their swinging and heroin use.
This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.
Discussion of Helen Garner's Joe Cinque's Consolation, Garner's true crime book about the case.