Playwright Martin Mcdonagh has openly declared the work of Quentin Tarantino, John Woo and Francis Ford Coppela to be lodged firmly in his bank of inspiration. These influences, among others, are displayed in abundance in his latest work, 'A Behanding in Spokane'. The play is a veritable party bag of violence, criminality, obsession, prejudice, and black humour infused with the spirit of classic Hollywood westerns and a pervasive air of whimsy.
The play's activities are confined to a budget hotel room in which Marilyn (Nicole da Silva) and Toby (Bert LaBonte) are being held captive by Carmichael (Colin Moody). Carmichael is the definition of a man on a mission; his whole life is centred around the recovery of his lost hand, ostensibly removed without provocation by a group of bored bandits enamoured by the sight of train wheels over flesh. Marilyn and Toby, a petty drug dealing bi-racial couple, catch word of Carmichael's obsession and decide to exploit the situation. However, their obvious inability to provide the goods quickly lands them in trouble, which is essentially where the play begins.
Mcdonagh's extensive back catalogue of writing accolades, including four Tony Awards (The Beauty of Queen Leenane, The Lonesome West, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman) and an Academy Award for best original screenplay (In Bruges), sets high expectations for the play. For the most part 'A Behanding in Spokane' delivers, every line dripping with the darkest of humour and a plot that assuredly toys with the boundaries that suspend disbelief. However, a few moments reek of contrived padding that ties almost too neatly back into the final plot, most notably the scene in which hotel clerk Mervyn monologues on his wish for some form of hero centred amusement to give more meaning to his dullard existence.
The staging is delightfully understated; the hotel room exposing the perfect level of decay befitting the play's content. Although generally well angled for maximum audience exposure, the set is raised a tad too high for the front row to view the action comfortably. The addition of a grubbed up classical theatre curtain around the main centre of action to disconnect the scenes was also a nice touch. The direction is assured and largely unfussy, aside from the occasional dalliance with forced exaggeration, which is forgivable considering the material. However, the general plot, strong language and somewhat visceral nature of some props (read: severed hands, some of which were inadvertently thrown into the audience) may disturb more sensitive attendees. Nonetheless, for those more appreciative of morbid entertainment the play is very much a winner. It also has a refreshingly manageable running time of just around an hour and a half.
The Melbourne Theatre Company's production of 'A Behanding in Spokane' is playing at the Sumner Theatre, accessible by the number 1 tram, until March 19. Tickets can be purchased through the Arts Centre, and for adults cost $30-$100 depending on seating.