Strangers in Between

Reviewer's Rating

This play was first produced in 2005 in Sydney and has since travelled far and wide. Part of its success lies in the funny, authentic banter of much of the dialogue, and partly in the way it blends together four plausible stereotypes around the lives of modern gay men. There is Shane, a young man in flight from the homophobia of his rural upbringing, now finding his way uneasily and awkwardly in the big city. There is his confident, suave, lover Will, the accomplished, handsome, toned man about town, on the cusp between cynical substance-fuelled hedonism and memories of a less-assured younger self. As a darker contrast there is Ben, Shane’s unreconstructed brother, reflexively homophobic but still with strong loyalties to family and home. Finally, we meet Peter, an older gay man, closer to the world of Barry Humphries’ Sandy Stone, full of fey, occasionally acidic, humour, and devoted to his cat while awkwardly awaiting the death of his mother, now lost to dementia.

These characters are lovingly and carefully drawn. They need a trio of skilful actors to bring them to life, whether through incisive, pacy delivery of the dialogue or through respectful attention to detail; and this is exactly the case here from a cast whose work is seamlessly integrated. The play needs this because in other respects it has become quite suddenly something of a period piece. I last saw the play a few years ago at Trafalgar Studios, and in the interim the gay social scene does abruptly seem to have moved on. The world of the Apps has taken over so that the dating scene and interactions described here suddenly feel an era away; and the idea of a skint country boy slipping readily into Central Sydney – or indeed any major city – is financially unimaginable.

Director Adam Spreadbury-Maher has form in this play, but he and designer David Shields have reimagined it once more in the simplest terms for this new production at The Golden Goose, together with a finely calibrated lighting design by Richard Lambert that deftly underscores the shifts in mood in the action. Set in the round, there is great economy in the setting – just a raised counter which transforms into both a bed and – unexpectedly – a bath; a washstand that converts into a shop display in a drinks store – and that is about it.

Alex Ansdell offers a remarkable debut performance as Shane, all nervy, contradictory energy revealing both a desire to please, a fear of the new, and a disconcerting internalised homophobia. Matthew Mitcham, best known as a gold-medal-winning Olympic swimmer, reveals a genuine and warmly humane skill-set of fine technical accomplishment – suggesting impatience, sexy swagger and brotherly compassion as Will and brittle, moody toughness and slight menace, in the Doppleganger role of Ben. Finally Stephen Connery-Brown brings his years of experience in playing the role of Peter to a finely honed perfection, with lovely comic timing, generosity of spirit and a fierce anger when his motives are misconceived as predatory. There are performances to cherish that deserve adn should receive repeat viewing.

There is a lovingly serene ending to the play which still feels earned rather than just wished for, and speaks powerfully and realistically to the yearnings many gay men feel for family life, while also suggesting the many creative and unexpectedly fulfilling ways in which it may be found. Family still matters but in new ways that have yet to be imagined.