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A tale of family, frailty, fraternity-with an Aussie flavour
Heading down to the basement space of fortyfivedownstairs is like entering a subterranean nether world. What happens down there is a reflection of what's new and interesting in Melbourne theatre and cabaret. The current production makes the leap from the Cold War cabaret of Miss Jugoslavia and the Barefoot Orchestra to something a bit closer to home.
Boy Out of the Country takes place in a small town on the rural fringes of an unnamed sprawling Australian city. Property values are being inflated by the rezoning of large tracts of land into residential areas to make room for housing estates. And where there's the whiff of money in the air, family bonds are placed under threat.
You don't have to be Gina Rinehart to understand that things can get very ugly indeed. In Boy Out of the Country, brother is ranged against brother and mothers, wives, lovers and deceased fathers become collateral damage in a fraternal war that masquerades as a fight to protect the interests of the offspring of two generations of one Australian family.
One should never underestimate the significance of sibling rivalry in an individual's perception of the world. Simmering resentments rise to the surface in this family turf war that brings to light long-hidden secrets and seems destined to end in tears.
A soap opera set to verse?
Boy Out of the Country is this and so much more. It's warm, it's funny, it's affectionate without being patronising. The childhood name the two brothers give the family property is a mishmash of significant events from the 1970s. 'Utopia' becomes somehow entangled with 'Ethiopia' the newsworthy trouble spot of their childhood years resulting in 'Etho' as the almost-mystical happy place of their youth. Most of us can identify with an 'Etho' somewhere in our past.
In the midst of the fraternal conflict there are moments of great poignancy. The brothers' retelling of the time their forearms were superglued together was a gem: a humorous reminiscence that gave way to a poignant recollection of three days of enforced fraternisation (in every sense of the word). When they finally found themselves unstuck, neither immediately acknowledged the fact, reluctant somehow to end the closeness.
Fine performances all round from a well-cast ensemble, with 'elders' Jane Clifton and Chris Bunworth the winners by a short half head for this reviewer from a very talented field.
And the verse? So well-crafted is this piece, it creeps up gently and almost imperceptibly.
Boy Out of the Country is an Australian 'poem' that deserves a place in our literary lexicon. Don't miss the chance to witness your own little piece of Australian history in the making.