By Reg Cribb
Roundhouse Community Centre
July 21-30
604-408-8952 or

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 good).

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.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Friday, July 22, 2005 8:26 PM
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