Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
A dark play about power and corrupt institutions
Ace and Bubs Corchoran have a dead body. They've been given strict instructions about how to dispose of it. But they don't do as they're told, and the body is discovered by Detective Inspector Rowstone and Detective Cheeseman in a shallow grave at Broken River in rural Victoria. The body is identified as Junie Patel, a trans singer. Ace and Bubs' mother, Marlene Corchoran, is the chief suspect in her gruesome murder. What unfolds over the next two hours is a dark drama about power, corrupt institutions, bullies, and victims. This play is not for the faint of heart.
Broken River is a crime drama by Tony Reck, directed by Richard Murphet at La Mama Courthouse as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival 2019. It is a plot-driven story that packs in a lot of twists and turns, information and action, painting a very neat, albeit dark, picture of a world where everything and everyone is connected. It's like a tense game of chess, where every movement affects the whole board, and there's not much room for characters to question or change or evolve, because everyone's straining simply to survive.
The acting is strong overall, with Jackson Trickett a stand out in his portrayal of Bubs. Bubs as a character is somewhat timid, vulnerable, confused, and oppressed, but he is not without sense, strength or agency. Trickett exudes the innocence that the role requires, while steering clear of choices that would make him appear pathetic, and does justice to this complex character.
The set is minimalistic, consisting mainly of simple chairs and tables and clean, dark walls. Its distinguishing feature is its incorporation of levels and staired access - which appears to be a metaphor for the power structures and hierarchies in this world. From the very beginning, almost every character indicates an awareness of the delicate balance between the powers at work, and the importance of maintaining loyalty for survival. There are repeated references to the importance of family, mainly as a threatening, arm-twisting tactic by the stronger characters against the weaker. This - and the other repeated references in the show - are surprisingly blatant in tone, there's no subtlety or scope to wonder about what exactly is being threatened or why. The "bad guys" make no pretence of being good, and the remaining characters don't earn sympathy as much for being good (indeed we have no reason to believe that they are good), as they do for being victims and casualties, both of the bad guys and of the system.
The events in this story are fictitious, but the lack of subtlety in the text and the consistently dark depiction of Victoria Police almost gives it a feeling of non-fiction. There was a strong sense that there is only one possible interpretation of anything that was depicted, and the absence of layers (despite a visual promise of layers) somewhat dampened the show's artistic impact. Towards the end, as the drama escalated in the courtroom scene and the play's resolution, the darkness and satire also escalated to the point of caricature. Flashbacks of Junie Patel (played by George Munro) singing soft and soulful songs between scenes, while filled with pathos, were not enough to bring balance to the tone of the play as a whole.
All in all, it was an intense show. And while there was certainly no scope for boredom, there was equally no scope for hope or light at the end of the tunnel.