Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Nov 14 – Dec 8, 2013
Playwright: Robert J. Merritt
Director: Kyle J. Morrison
Actors: Luke Carroll, Oscar Redding, George Shevtsov, James Slee, Tim Solly, Irma Woods
The Cake Man was written and staged originally in the early 1970s, from the perspective of Aboriginal Australians, about life on a mission in country NSW. Forty years on, a contemporary staging remains relevant and poignant. There is nothing dated or unfamiliar about the characters and their plight, and therein lies the tragedy. Robert J. Merritt’s script is colourful and textured. It is also honest and brave, giving voice to the original occupants of our land who are now ethnic minorities as a result of systematic genocide over generations. Works of this nature are highly important, and fundamental to the rebuilding and atonements that need to be made.
Director Kyle J. Morrison’s use of space is sensitive, instinctual and intelligent. He creates a sense of campfire storytelling that draws us in, and the earthiness he evokes by keeping all actors on stage at all times, gives the production a rare intimacy and purity. The work has a beautiful languidness, but a couple of scenes could benefit from a tighter pace, or maybe slight edits would add further interest to the plot.
Young actor James Slee is certainly one to watch. He has a natural ease on stage, and performs with a kind of naturalism that is striking in its simplicity but also lively and passionate. Irma Woods is above all, a performer with great sincerity and authenticity. There is no sense of a character being put on, only the most thorough blurring of lines between actor and role. Luke Carroll in The Cake Man shows himself to be one of the best actors of his generation. His charisma is undeniable, magnetic and powerful. His use of voice and movement is animated yet realistic, and completely delightful to watch. The fearlessness in Carroll’s portrayal of Sweet William elevates the play, giving it an emotional quality that all audiences will find irresistible.
At the heart of The Cake Man is a burning desire for recovery, progression, and emancipation. It is a small morsul of the Aboriginal experience, but it encapsulates so much that is true in contemporary Australian lives, and so much that needs to be examined and advanced. We need stories like this, and we need them to propel from the fringes to the big, wide mainstream.