Strangers In Between
WORDS BY SANDRA BUOL
His eyes are wide open, he stares into the light, into the streets of Kings Cross. They are filled with excitement – or is it anxiety? His hands fumble around nervously, they are sweaty, and he wipes them on his pants, constantly. His hair keeps falling into his eyes. He is young, very young, and he is new to the city.
“I don’t know what I like anymore. Everything is changing.”
This is true for everyone in puberty, but it is especially true for young Shane. He left his home because everyone knows everything in the small rural town where he comes from and where doors only get locked once a year – when the show is in town. He left home because his brother beat him up. He left home because he is gay.
The combination of teenage angst – heightened by the very real fear of being gay bashed – and excitement about being in King’s Cross are beautifully played by emerging actor Wil King. The rather intimate setting of the small, studio-style Reginald Theatre at the Seymour Centre allows us to be right there with him, when he first meets young urbanite Will (recent Helpmann Award winner Guy Simon) and the fifty-year old Peter (acclaimed actor Simon Burke) at the bottle shop where he works for some much-needed cash. Both consequently become important figures in Shane’s life – and while both of them cause some confusion in the young man, they ultimately end up being what he needs.
The relationship between Shane and Peter is especially touching. The older man takes care of Shane, who turns out to be even younger than he claims, while mourning his own lost youth and dealing with his dying mother at the same time. His voice cracks when he asks Shane to tell him about his adventures in the joints of King’s Cross and for a small moment it seems like he is going to succumb to the stereotype of the older gay man who preys on a pup – but fortunately this does not happen and in the end the two men embrace each other for what they are: family.
The story between Shane and Will on the other hand provides some laughs – including a hilarious sex scene hidden under white sheets. But then Shane has to make the experience that at times some unpleasant surprises result from sex – even with condoms involved. Ultimately, Will comes through for Shane. They might not end up as boyfriends, but they will be there for each other when needed.
Guy Simon also appears as Shane’s older brother. The transformation – achieved through language and posture – is stunning. And while at first, we are made to believe that the brother is just your everyday bogan homophobe, it is revealed that he has his own trauma that made him act the way he did.
The two-act play Strangers in Between by Australian playwright Tommy Murphy was first staged in 2005 and broke box office records. More than a decade later, it has not lost any of its appeal. The revival has been included in this year’s Midsumma and Mardi Gras Festivals. For Murphy, Strangers in Between celebrates “a tradition of nurture within our community.” After the hurtful and unnecessary debate about the validity of same-sex relationships, the people we choose to be our family are as important as ever. Shane, Peter and Will are the best example for this.
This review is based on a preview of Strangers in Between at the Seymour Centre. Its regular schedule runs till the 2nd of March. Student tickets are available for $35.
Image credit: Sarah Walker