Bang

Bang is a play about terrorism. But, it’s not just about terrorism, it is also about relations between Australia and the Middle East, Christianity, Islam and Secularism, and about the complexities of right and wrong, the complexities of storytelling, more generally, and the complexities of telling stories about terrorism, more specifically. First up, I must say, is good to see a story about terrorism that is at all complex.

Formally reminiscent of Gavin’s award-winning earlier work, A Moment on the Lips, that premiered at the Old Fitz in early 2005 (I think!?), Bang is thematically more ambitious; Gavin takes on global religious conflict, rather than a women’s dinner party. If I had to glibly reduce Gavin’s years of hard work to a pithy phrase i’d say that Bang is Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul “meets” the film Crash (the “other” crash, i.e. not the Ballard/Cronenberg/Spader film). It is a play about the relationship between here and there (similar to Kushner’s work) and follows the multiple threads of human narrative that are drawn together (or blown apart) by a tragic and violent event (like Crash).

I respect the conceptual ambition of the play text. At the level of the script it is an intelligent articulation of the different spatial and temporal scales of complexity of contemporary terrorism–local, national, global, cultural, religious, generational–and how they all intersect; the personal is entangled in the global (and all things in between). At the level of production, these complexities are remarkably well sustained by director (Kim Hardwick) and the multiple roles are simply endowed and plausibly realised by the talented cast even in such a small space like Downstairs Belvoir.

Blazey Best and Ivan Donato are superb in what I think is the central thread of the narrative web, the Turkish-Australian brother and sister at the heart of the bangs in the play. Their story is counter-balanced by the anglo-mother and father, played by Caroline Brazier and Damian Rice, also who are at the centre of Bang’s bangs, for different reasons.

I think herein lies where my criticism of the play lies. There is an unborn baby that is integral to the mother-father narrative thread, that dominates the second act. I recognise the dramatic cache in the unborn baby story, but I always struggle to sustain serious interest when the unborn baby’s role is an extensive feature of a dramatic relationship. Although I imagine it operates as one of the strongest emotional threads of this drama for many in the audience, for me the unborn baby element was drawn out and possibly the weakest element in Gavin’s dramatic web. I think, possibly this is a point i’d like to talk more about, I think it may have worked if it was performed differently, but can’t go on so without spoiling the play too much, so I’ll let it rest.

My gripe about the production itself seems petty, but I want to make it anyway. I recognise too that this is possibly a feature of a tight budget, but I found the costumes, which invoked a kind of east-meets-west theme, hybrid middle-eastern flowing linens with the western department-store poly-cotton seams and hems, oddly distracting. I understood the concept, but I don’t know if the costumes needed to mirror the cultural complexities of the play’s central theme.

I might add, through the process of writing this, the more I try and write about it the more I like the play, because the play seems to become more interesting the more I think about it. This is the mark of good writing. Bang is a play that dramatises our cultural anxieties and worst fears and makes them complex and interesting. Ultimately, I think I like the play more than the production, but it is a very engaging night at the theatre anyway.

Bang plays until the 4th July, 2010 at Downstairs Belvoir

This is an unofficial review of the performance on Tuesday 22nd, June

TRANSPORT:

I couldn’t ride my bike to Belvoir last night, the rain came down just as I was planning to leave. I had by pannier bag with me. Although it is cumbersome and bright yellow, it sort-of unconvincingly doubles as handbag. But, Belvoir is easily reached by public transport and I caught the bus to central and walked in the rain from Eddy Avenue. Ate dinner at Abdul’s on Elizabeth beforehand (FYI Abdul’s has possibly the best Baba Ganouj in Sydney). Then, I went to the old tomato sauce factory to watch Jonathan Gavin’s new play Bang.

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