First Class Performance

From the minute the audience entered the Guild Theatre we were transported into the gritty and dreamlike world of FLW’s Who’s Afraid of the Working Class. The set – a garbage tip, mattresses and a table – radiated well-coordinated chaos. The live music was urban and surreal, and the actors frozen in their positions on stage already grounded us in their world.

Who’s Afraid of the Working Class is an entangling of four Melbourne plays written by four Australian authors: ‘Trash’ by Andrew Bovell, ‘Money’ by Patricia Cornelius, ‘Dream-town’ by Melissa Reeves and ‘Suit’ by Christos Tsiolkas. Witty, heartbreaking and full of familiarly Australian characters, it’s a play I won’t soon forget.

Madeleine Kerr’s direction was effective and moving, and her casting superb. As specified in the original script each actor was cast in multiple roles. However, the combinations were altered so that each actor sat comfortably in the skin of at least two very different characters. At times it was difficult to work out if an actor had changed character but the distinct characterisation resolved any confusion fairly quickly.

The blocking in some scenes mixed naturalistic acting with some surrealism – such as actors facing the audience rather than each other during a conversation, allowing the audience into their relationship. There were also numerous scenes where the physical blocking greatly added to the comedy of an already sharp script: most notably Lexie Gregory’s character in the train scene trying to fit her legs around those of Brendan McDougall’s ‘Man’ – a familiar experience for any woman.

Unusually, there was no weak link amongst the cast. I was impressed and absorbed by every actor. Many of them, though most notably McDougall as Leon, found humour while conveying their character’s pain honestly. The relationships between characters were layered and believable – particularly the bond between siblings Stacey and Orton. Patrick Tuikaba’s mix of dismissal and care, and Gregory’s devotion to him, was truly poignant.

One of the highlights of the performance was a scene between James Lowther and Steph Raad, where teenaged Daniel breaks into an old woman’s house, only to be mistaken for her estranged son. James Lowther and Steph Raad bounced off each other perfectly – their timing and energy in sync. Lowther’s growing frustration was believable, well delivered, and extremely funny.

The other standout performance was Jess Stenglein’s monologue as Rhonda. When Stenglein finally appeared in the last part of the show I thought it was odd to only give her roles that appear so late. However her characterisation was perfect: she imbued each character with individual life and was captivating every second she was on stage – which is especially difficult in such a long monologue. Her performance as Rhonda was devastating, inducing empathy from the audience despite her character being rather unlikable. She, along with the entire cast, successfully walked the line of sending up characters and revealing their humanity. However, the nudity that followed Rhonda’s monologue didn’t seem to have a clear purpose in the play and therefore would maybe have been a moment where it would have been more effective to ignore that direction in the script.

Overall, Who’s Afraid of the Working Class combined an intelligent script with a strong cast and talented creatives to realise one of the best shows I’ve seen in the last few years.

Emily Kruse

FLW’s Production of Who’s Afraid of the Working Class ran from October 5th-8th in the Guild Theatre.

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