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Welcome to the world of Otto
Presented as part of the Sydney Mardi Gras festival, The Depot Theatre and Tunks Productions have teamed up to present According to Otto - a play about coming out, identity, love and family. Written by one of indie theatre's most prolific playwrights, Wayne Tunks, the piece focuses on one teenage boy's struggle to be accepted after coming out as gay to his family on his sixteenth birthday.
In this day and age, it's a shame that there is still such stigma around coming out, but nevertheless, it is a particularly stressful time for LGBTQI people as they wonder if they will be accepted by their loved ones for who they are. According to Otto shows us the many different reactions and facets of coming out - the good, the bad and the ugly - on the protagonist's journey to acceptance.
After coming out on his sixteenth birthday, Otto is faced with a mother who struggles with his revelation, a sister who embraces his openness about his sexuality and a fater who throughout the show, becomes his supportive rock. He's also faced with the dilemma of whether to tell his best friend Max, who he has been in love with for some time, as well as trying to avoid the school bully Brady, who has teased Otto and Max for years.
Writer Wayne Tunks has developed a solid script, however a little more workshopping and development is needed in some sections of the script. There are moments where lines are repeated almost word for word and it feels like deja vu. That said, the dialogue overall has powerful and poignant moments and Tunks' ability to litter a script with witty one-liners is evident in this play.
Multi-talented writer Wayne Tunks also takes on the role of director and actor in this piece and his direction is particularly solid in the scenes with Otto's family centred around the sofa. Lighting design by Louise Mason is sketchy at times, however, the Depot Theatre is not an easy space to light and I imagine a few slightly off lighting cues and actor positioning issues will fix themselves as the run continues.
The set design is ambitious, but ultimately confusing, with the main setting of the family house consisting of the end of an unnecessarily placed bed sticking out of one wall, the LGBTQI rainbow painted around the top of the house walls and astroturf with two swings at the back of the house. Sound is a constant cheesy delight, with Donna Lewis making a few appearances in the soundtrack.
Jasper Musgrave takes on the title role of sixteen-year-old Otto with great energy and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite yet have the acting chops to pull off such a big role, struggling in his solo narration sections of the play. That said, his bubbly and likeable stage presence means that with some more experience, he will be a young actor to watch in the future.
Wayne Tunks as Otto's father, Gavin, delivers some of the more moving and rousing speeches in the play and Tunks' passion for the role is evident. Jacinta Moses doesn't hit her straps until later in the piece, but as Otto's mother struggling with his coming out, she certainly has some nice moments of vulnerability. Tasha O'Brien plays Otto's sister, Ava, and she nicely captures the essence of the less-than-dedicated uni student who becomes a source of support for Otto.
Brendan Paul as best friend Max is sweet and extremely likeable and his struggle with his own identity is well explored. Cooper Mortlock as the homophobic school bully has a small role, but a powerful one and Mortlock approaches this role with menace. Alice Furze and Andrew Wang play multiple roles each and although we only see snippets of each character, they are a lot of fun to watch.
The absolute standout of this well-rounded ensemble is Felicity Burke who plays Otto's wheelchair-ridden, barely able to string a sentence together, sick grandmother. Burke demonstrates the power of strong physical and character work combined with excellent comic timing and then also manages to move the audience with a beautifully simple and poignant speech to Otto. Her versatility as an actor is absolutely on display here.
According to Otto is by no means a perfect work, but what it lacks in polish, it makes up in heart. The themes and storyline of this piece are relevant and important, the cast is solid and the piece is a great fit for the Mardi Gras festival.