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The Way Things Work at Red Stitch Actors Theatre

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by Elizabeth Quinn (subscribe)
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The Way Things Work: How Democracy dies behind closed doors…
Playwright Aidan Fennessy has a CV as long as your arm. He is an award-winning writer, director and dramaturg, with a laudable mission-statement for his play The Way Things Work: 'to examine the endless proliferation of corruption allegations and their various outcomes, not only through every tier of government but from the private sector, the fourth estate and other major cultural and religious bodies, top to bottom.'

the way things work, Aidan fennessy, red stitch actors theatre, Joe petruzzi, Peter houghton
Aidan Fennessy

In the current political climate, the plot couldn't have been more apt. Experienced actors in Red Stitch stalwart Joe Petruzzi and guest actor Peter Houghton make up the cast of six characters playing to an opening night audience of well-disposed punters. Possibly too well-disposed in a couple of cases. There is nothing more calculated to set this reviewer's teeth on edge than raucous disproportionate audience reaction, but that's not the fault of the play or the actors.

the way things work, Aidan fennessy, red stitch actors theatre, Joe petruzzi, Peter houghton
Joe Petruzzi & Peter Houghton

The opening scene is a tense stand-off between corrupt minister Barlow and his departmental secretary Dench on the eve of a royal commission. Houghton as Dench does a good job of playing a put-upon public servant doing his best to stick to his principles in the face of an amoral, politically-incorrect boss who 'tick(s) every box under 18C.' Petruzzi's Barlow has some of the best lines in the play — he describes public servants as 'smugly tenured superannuated invertebrates' — but his delivery falls short at times.

the way things work, Aidan fennessy, red stitch actors theatre, Joe petruzzi, Peter houghton
Joe Petruzzi

More plausible is his portrayal in the following scene, of the older of two Greek brothers, co-directors of the dodgy concreting firm at the heart of the royal commission investigation. Fraternal bickering gives way to something more sinister as it becomes clear a company takeover is in play with their much-maligned 'Mum' (absent from the stage) proving to be a key player. This theme of things not being as they seem is carried through into the finale which takes place in prison, the bottom rung of the 'vertical system' of corruption as described by Minister Barlow. Emotions and roles see-saw between prisoner and warder, leaving the audience on edge until the very last seconds.

The Way Things Work gives a jaundiced but perceptive insight into unpalatable political realities. In the words of Minister Barlow, 'Welcome to the political system... where integrity comes to die.' It's a messy business.
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Why? Corruption. Politics. Loyalty. Fear. What's not to love?
When: Tuesday January 31 to Sunday March 5 2017
Phone: (03) 9533 8083
Where: Red Stitch Actors Theatre
Cost: $49
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