The current production of RELATIVE MERITS is a play about football that everyone should see. Set in 1989, and first produced at the Stables Theatre in 1993, this twentieth anniversary revival explores homophobia, AIDS and family values at a time when many Australians were first coming to grips with these important issues. However, while this production is clearly set in 1989, the play still speaks loudly and clearly to a contemporary audience. While we have certainly come a long way since 1989, RELATIVE MERITS still has a compelling message for an audience in 2013; surely the current strident opposition to marriage equality is indicative of how many of these attitudes remain unchanged.
This production, starring Jeff Teale as Adam, the homosexual football hero and James Wright as his confused, homophobic brother Clay, explores the very close relationship between the two brothers and brings deep understanding of how their heavily Catholic background has influenced them. Their mother, who never appears on stage, is a powerful representation of the bigotry which still exists in many organised religions, and contributes to our understanding of Adam’s public denial of his homosexuality as well as Clay’s homophobia. Adam’s mourning for his partner is very moving, and Clay’s growing understanding that his love for his brother transcends his earlier prejudice is life affirming.
This production takes place on a very small stage, but the staging choices made by director, Les Solomon, are very effective. Both actors move easily through the audience, thus breaking the fourth wall, which immediately forges a closer connection between the audience and the characters. Clay’s anguish in the hospital scene is powerful, and his unrestrained joy at Mardi Gras is infectious. The fight scene between Adam and Clay is very well executed given the limited space available.
Barry Lowe has written an excellent play which still speaks convincingly to a contemporary audience. This is a didactic piece, but it works so well because it challenges stereotypes and requires the audience to engage with the characters in a very personal way, so that we become intensely involved in their story. Don’t miss this excellent production!
RELATIVE MERITS is playing at the King Street Theatre, corner King and Bray Streets, Newtown for a strictly limited season, Friday and Saturday nights at 10pm and Sundays at 7pm.