STRANGERS IN BETWEEN… two strangers. Strangers who are pulled into the life of a newcomer to the perilous city, a young man named Shane. Shane is in between boy and man, in between straight and gay and in between genetic family and adoptive family. He is the lost boy, the wide eyed innocent, the guiltless seeker and he will meet these two strangers as he emerges blinking to a new life. This production, playing at the Seymour Centre as part of Mardi Gras, tells a story. A human story, riddled with the laughter and with the fears. The story for us of those who embrace us.
Shane is working in a bottle shop in the Cross. He’s been left alone with the till and is completely out of his depth as he attempts to serve Will who has wandered to pick up his usual, vodka mixers. Taken aback by this young man’s ineptitude and not afraid to take financial advantage of his lack of pricing knowledge, Will waits patiently as Shane also attempts to help Peter. Peter is an older customer, looking for a cheap-as bottle for his sister and not afraid of a twinkling bemusement at Shane’s enthusiastic incompetence. These 3 characters are not the whole story though, from a land far far away in Goulburn will come Shane’s brother, Ben.
There might be some vague notion that STRANGERS IN BETWEEN (Tommy Murphy 2005) might have dated … after all the Shift isn’t even there anymore! … but this iteration is as relevant as ever by virtue of the humanist and sympathetic hand of its director, Daniel Lammin. With razor sharp performances, honed to storytelling perfection, the production is that rare and wonderful blend of naivety and wisdom so seldom done well in stories of gay life.
Bringing the naivety is Wil King‘s Shane. Boyish and charming, affable and endearing as he dithers and galumphs by turn. It’s easy to give us a Shane to love but the excellence of this performance is in the believability of Shane’s shared self-knowledge. Also in the fact that Shane’s outbursts never appear out of character. The text allows for the familial basis of these eruptions but on the stage in front of us, King delicately balances the boy and his background. Shane’s semi-constant movement and open physicality allows space for the comedy which ripples through the show.
Taken in originally by the enthusiastic ineffectiveness of Shane is Will, played by Guy Simon. Simon will also take on the role of Shane’s brother towards the end of Act 1. His performance as Will brings out a hovering throughline between confident, self-sufficient, dis-engaged urban gay man and emotionally conflicted friend. Even more complex is the portrayal of Ben, the brother. Murphy has the two characters played by the same actor for a reason and Simon’s wonderful performance is allied with Lammin’s subtle direction to provide the echoes and reverberations which inform Shane’s growth.
Observer to those changes in Shane is Peter. This is such a nuanced and detailed performance from Simon Burke. With absolutely no sense of caricature or exaggerated appropriation, Burke embodies a gay man of an older vintage, in a time not quite of now. His ability to raise an eyebrow or pause before a reaction or moue with insouciance is craft ascendant. With compassion and self-deprecation, Peter is richly detailed in his world weariness, which makes the uplift of his new younger friend all the more poignant. Burke fully implicates Peter in vicarious living and one pivotal scene will break your heart as it does his.
In that scene, time discreetly slows down and focusses in on the moment. It is just superb theatre created by a company who people STRANGERS IN BETWEEN with characters to love, a story for the heart and emotions, like family, to embrace and keep close. Marvellous!