Directed by Richard Hilliar
Tooth and Sinew
Kings Cross Theatre
Kings Cross Hotel, 244-248 William Street, Potts Point
Season: 21 January – 4 February
Fear is a weapon. It is being wielded by political institutions across the globe to exact violence and consolidate power. A more sophisticated understanding of this force and its influence on us as individuals and people groups can have a disarming effect. I think this is the intention of Dennis Kelly’s play Osama the Hero and of Richard Hilliar’s production of the show. It does so with a fixation on the violence and destruction that flows easily when fears are left to remain unquestioned, taking hold of one’s thinking, perception of others and one’s place in the world.
Gary is a 16-year-old boy that thinks differently to the way that people tell him to think. Viewing an image-obsessed culture as an abomination and Osama Bin Laden as a hero for his people, he starts to rub people up the wrong way, to say the least. Mandy goes to school with him – she meets up with a 50-year-old man after school days in his garage. Louise and her brother Francis are alarmed by the bins that keep being blown up in their area. They think it’s acts of terrorism and are looking for the one to blame. These are the ‘real’ events presented to the audience, accompanied by abstractions that may or may not be grounded in reality, instead taking place in the minds or memories of the characters. The play takes the form of three distinct acts – the first, an interspersion of duologue scenes and a monologue from Gary; the second, a scene comprised by the collective ensemble; and the third, a criss-crossing interspersion of monologues. Kelly’s text demands a rigour from both the actors and the audience in its interpretation.
This production is confronting in its use of violence and in its unapologetic portrayal of heavily flawed characters. These are people in states of desperation, turning myopically inward as they are intimidated by the workings of the outside world. More effective are the violent images painted by the characters’ words (rendering the audience queasy to the core), than the stage violence itself. Use of sound effects does not aid the believability of the brutal undertakings on stage dictated by Kelly’s script. Part of me has to question Kelly’s apparent infatuation with violence and its possibly gratuitous depiction on stage. Here I am conflicted, given that we inhabit a culture consumed with violence whilst most of us are relatively detached from its direct effects – our country fighting wars and punishing refugees offshore, away from the western citizen’s eye. In this neoliberal world, fear manifests in more complex ways, infiltrating systems of thinking. However Hilliar’s production gives us characters that are both direct victims and perpetrators of savage violence. Whatever your verdict upon seeing the show, I can assure you that it is provocative.
Josh McElroy gives an excellent performance as Gary, with piercing eye contact with the audience daring you to disagree, simultaneously confounded by the world around him. He best finds the humour in what could otherwise be presented as an overly heavy play – this is good, because it is actually very funny. I would have liked to see more lightness throughout the show, as both respite to the callousness and as a gateway to the heightened nuance that can be discovered in the work. I enjoyed seeing the multiple facets of Louise, played by Nicole Wineberg, presenting us with so much more than just a female victim. She shines in her twisted depiction of her final monologue, carving out some of the most memorable, sickening, images of the production. Tel Benjamin shows us a man who purports to be in control and yet evidently is shackled by his rage and prejudicing past experiences. Benjamin is an explosive force on stage, regularly precipitating a cacophony of frustration and worry in a crescendo of the cast. Kelly’s script seems to ask for a pattern of crescendo and eruption, which whilst can be interesting in small doses, started to feel a little repetitive in spite of the interesting content and emotional stake of the text. Lyndon Jones portrays a weasel of a man, despicable in his manipulation of a young girl and gutless surrender to uneasy suspicion. He gives us a coward – and this is illustrative of the lengths a person can go to in a state of spineless self ‘defence’. Poppy Lynch contrasts the cast in her youthful naivety, whilst clearly having seen far more than a 16 year old should have to see.
This play is meaty and probably quite polarising of its audience. I first read it during the Trump/Clinton election race and am now seeing the production in the flesh during the rudimentary stages of Trump’s presidency - throughout this time its ideas and themes continue to strike me. The production toys with some fascinating ideas that resound not only in our current political climate but have held as a pertinent force and will continue to do so for as long as fear and vilification is weaponised, terrorism persists, and is raised on a pedestal as the ultimate evil. This production’s refusal to pigeonhole people, issues and events in a binary of good and bad is important. What prevails, I think, is a condemnation of the trivialisation of violence and its use in retaliation. To be intelligently provoked is a necessity – especially in a politically correct environment with an alt-right movement that cannot be ignored. This production is worth seeing, and its ideas need to be discussed.