Clare Mendes is an award winning australian novelist and playwright. Her skill in creating gritty, powerful, and terrifyingly real depictions of humanity show in Trash Goes Down The River. Watching it I kept thinking this was on a par with John Osborne's Look Back In Anger.
Trash Goes Down the River follows the establishment of Melbourne's most exclusive gated community, Eden Gardens. Proposed by socialite wife Melody Freeburg (Emma Cox) and championed by her supposedly long-suffering husband Richard (Alec Gilbert), Richard uses his position and influence as Deputy Lord Mayor of Melbourne City Council to create a utopia free from the mess and despair of homelessness which has become so visible in the CBD landscape. All three characters in the play are running away from something although it is the slow reveal of details and truths which keep us entranced to the very last moment - the very last word of the play. In fact, in my opinion there has never been a more powerful last line in history of theatre.
Mendes' writing is backed up by a powerful trio of performers and it is the true talent and confidence of director Elizabeth Walley which allows her to step back with the design, using a minimalist approach to allow the script and performances to shine. Ably backed by a sparse yet evocative lighting design by Bronwyn Pringle, every element of the play works to tell the story and support the themes - a surprising rarity in an era of the auteur and questions about performance authorship.
The story of Trash Goes Down The River is the really the story of Melody and Dianne (Clare Larman). Melody the socialite is juxtaposed against the homeless Clare - both so very different and yet so alike. Fate steps in to make them face their destiny together. The character of Melody Freeburg is a woman of the scope and scale of Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. The spine of the play, Cox has created a character of great depth with a horrific lack of insight and an unwitting humour which forces us to laugh even as we cringe in shock and despair. I would have liked Cox to allow us to see the fear and anxiety underlying Melody's brittleness a little more, but regardless she portrays the character with a strength and stamina only great actors in great roles get to display.
Gilbert has also crafted a brilliant Richard. A seemingly affable country boy from Murrayville pushed into the role and trappings of political success by his ambitious wife, the true monster is revealed in breathtaking rage as the final confrontation occurs. Larman has one of the hardest jobs in theatre. Her character Dianne speaks little throughout but when she does, her words roar through the room revealing the hidden truths amidst all the verbiage of Melody's tirades.
Trash Goes Down The River is something rare in the canon of theatre. It is a play from the female perspective, with a feminine sensibility without being diminished within that paradigm. When you watch it you realise what the male canon of theatre has been repressing all these years and what we need in theatre in the modern era. The difference is subtle yet incredibly important and it is almost impossible to understand until you see something like the greatness of Mendes' writing against the traditional classics.