Strangers In Between: The Store Room
You would think that staging a play in Melbourne based on Sydney’s gay male scene would be a difficult idea. Let’s face it, we denizens still have Kings Cross stuck in our craw, but Tommy Murphy’s Strangers in Between is too good to be hampered by inter-metropolitan tensions.
The play follows Shane (Aljin Abella), a very young, very naïve country New South Wales boy who has escaped to hip, freaky Kings Cross. There he finds the slightly older Will (Cameron Moore) and even older Peter (Bruce Kerr), representing typical, yet not stereotyped versions of gay Sydney, windows to Shane’s desire for comfort in his sexuality. But the picture is more complex. Shane’s naivety is not so country bumpkin, Peter’s old Sydney queen not the lecherous aged predator, and Will not the typical party boy copied straight out of Queer as Folk. The family that Shane has left behind is not so simplistic either, with the ominous figure of Shane’s brother Ben, also played by Moore, re-entering the story to colour Shane’s history, and by extension the story of his family, beyond the naïve ingénue done wrong by a conservative country town.
Govin Ruben’s lighting concept is refreshing. The Store Room has a very small space, and Ruben has designed their lighting states to complement the minimalist stage design and set changes. That being said the token gestures towards set were sometimes a bit awkward and unnecessary, for example the microwave and washing machine hiding within cupboards, or cans of soup being included in the apartment set when most of the other props are mimed.
The acting was also superb. This play is an actor’s dream; three generations, exploring a queer text, dialogue based in a small space. You can tell that all three players relish their parts, with each exploring the room their character has to give. Abella’s vulnerable Shane for his ultimate control over the dynamics of the play, Kerr for his experience, his offhanded and ultimately powerful approach to a role that could, ultimately, be based in stereotype and bias. And finally Moore, who handled his dual roles with grace, even when asked to transition on stage. Though his handling of the roles was apt, the character of Ben, Shane’s brother, has the weakest place in the story, and you can sense Moore struggling to make his character a worthy part of the mix, ultimately leading to a performance where technique triumphs over heart.
Strangers in Between is a well crafted work, made to fit snugly into the Store Room, with a talented group of actors and an innovative, if simple, design concept that made the text readily accessible and the most important and engaging aspect of the piece.
Little Death Produtions’ Strangers In Between by Tommy Murphy runs at The Store Room (131 Scotchmer St, North Fitzroy), Tuesday to Sunday until the 16th of August.