Shane is 16, and has recently located from the rural Goulburn in New South Wales, Australia to the metropolitan hub of Sydney’s Kings Cross. At first his motivations appear simple, Sydney is representative of all that his hometown is not – progressive, sexually liberal and somewhere he can belong. However, as the narrative unfolds Strangers In Between exhibits far more depth and complexity than first meets the eye, and is a touching and compassionate exploration of escaping the past and forming new bonds.
Playing the protagonist with convincing naivety and teenage angst, Roly Botha fully embodies the role of Shane both physically and emotionally. As the play begins and he nervously twitches his way through an awkward first encounter with the ultra-desirable Will, Shane’s immature but endearing charm resonates with the audience instantly and we’re well and truly on board for the journey to follow, thanks to Botha’s compelling and relatable characterisation. Dan Hunter is wonderful as Will, and plays this character with a nuance and dimension that could easily have been lacking in the role of ‘hunk’. Hunter also plays Shane’s ominously mysterious brother Ben, and switches between these contrasting characters fluidly and sharply, which is credit to his adaptability as an actor and sophisticated direction from Adam Spreadbury-Maher.
As Shane navigates independence on a practical level, as well as freedom to embrace his sexuality for the first time, he meets Peter – a fabulously self-assured, gentle and witty middle-aged man who, despite turbulent encounters, becomes a source of stability and support. Stephen Connery-Brown brings Peter to life with dynamic and charismatic stage presence as well as hilariously- delivered one liners that offset other melancholy and sobering moments peppered throughout the script. The three actors have undeniable chemistry which helps Tommy Murphy’s rich and layered writing flourish on stage.
Although specifically set against the context of gay culture in Sydney – Strangers In Between addresses universal themes that are relevant to anyone, and the play’s true strength lies in it’s carefully executed balance of sentimentality and realism, as well as representing the essence of human relationships in a way that transcends romance alone – in all of their complicated, messy and unquantifiable glory.