27 January 2018

Review: Strangers in Between

Strangers in Between
Cameron Lukey and Don't Be Down Productions
in association with fortyfivedownstairs and the Seymour Centre
25 January 2018
to 11 February

Seymour Centre season 14 February to 2 March

Strangers in Between. Wil King and Simon Burke. Photo by Sarah Walker

2005 is already so long ago that there's a generation who have no idea how we communicated – let alone met people and dated; let alone that we used to date – without smart phones.

Strangers in Between by Tommy Murphy (Holding the Man) won the 2006 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Best Play. Set in 2005 in Kings Cross in Sydney, it's connected to time and place and could almost feel historic, but director Daniel Lammin uses the nostalgia to support the script and characters and lets its story feel a part of now.

Teenager Shane (Wil King) has fled up the Hume Highway from small city Goulburn to Kings Cross in Sydney. He's working in a bottle shop and as terrified of area's reputation of violence and fear as he is desperate for any friendship, guidance and connection. In 2005, Grindr is still at least four years away and unimaginable, mobile phones and home computers are expensive, and Australia Post is  reliable. The only way to meet people is in real life and Shane awkwardly befriends slightly-older Will (Guy Simon; who also doubles as Shane's brother) and a-bit-more-older Peter (Simon Burke) when they come into the bottle shop.

A lot of the humour comes from remembering the time – and often relies on knowing Kings Cross and small town Australia – and from Shane's naive and earnest attitude to sex, cheap food and laundromats. The many laughs about Shane's ignorance are grounded in empathy and the tone is balanced by ensuring that, despite the inevitable dark revelations, assumptions about age and power are also gently confronted.

The shiny-streamer backdrop design places it in the Cross but doesn't always support the tone. For a work that's set in homes and so about the personal, the design felt like it was hinting that it was going to move into the the club and tourist side of the suburb, which locals avoid. But the final image is perfect.

Lammin's comparison to Armistead Maupin's "logical family" is clear and there's room for more ambiguity, but sometimes celebration is the best choice.

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