By Reg Cribb
Roundhouse Community Centre
604-408-8952 or www.thereturnplay.com
This play is definitely not sponsored by Australia’s Tourism
Bureau or Chamber of Commerce, and don’t expect to see Skytrain’s
logo on the program. Set on board a late-night commuter train traveling
from Perth to Fremantle, its look at the underside of Down Under
is not a pretty sight.
Written by Aussie playwright Reg Cribb and given a powerful production
at the Roundhouse, The Return
is reminiscent of British and Canadian plays of the 1970s that shone
a light on the dark side of modern life and the deterioration of
the social contract as enacted by angry, violent young men. Here
it’s the suburbs of Western Australia that are portrayed as
a nightmarish wasteland.
“This town has turned into a sewer,” a woman on the
train complains, polluted by “the sort of men that keep people
home at night behind closed doors.” Even the thugs agree.
“It’s a dog-ass life,” one admits. The best advice
he can give the woman is to “tell your kids to run away as
fast as possible before the rot sets in.”
The woman, Maureen (Wendy Bollard), is fleeing her unhappy marriage
to a drunkard husband who kicks the cat every time his football
team loses. She finds herself trapped in the railway car with Steve
(Ben Cole) and Trev (Chris Eastman), intimidating, muscular tough
guys just released from prison. Also on board are beautiful law
student Lisa (Angelique Naudé) and Simon, a writer (David
Quinlan). And the railway security guards are on strike.
“I can feel madness in the air,” says Steve, the bigger,
more articulate tough. Primed for trouble and with nothing to lose,
these guys are ticking bombs just looking for an excuse to explode.
Their language is harsh and crude. Even when they fool around, the
violence is tangible. Trev, almost feral, hangs ape-like from the
train’s metal scaffolding, and when Steve play-smacks Trev,
he hits him hard.
We watch uncomfortably as they cross the line between flirting
with Lisa and terrorizing her. Things really get nasty when Simon
is drawn into their crossfire. That’s also where the play
turns into a contrived melodrama with plot twists and revelations
galore, plus a gun.
The specific story The Return
tries to tell is less compelling than its bitter slice of miserable
Australian life, rendered only partly exotic by the thick accents,
cultural references (waxing nostalgic for Rolf Harris concerts),
and slang (“the duck’s nuts” means something really
Director Andrew McIlroy keeps the train driving at a good clip
and the acting is fine. Eastman and Bollard do particularly strong
work, but the show really belongs to Steve--the handsome, charismatic,
scary Ben Cole, who also produced it. Good job, mate.