Venue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 17 – 21, 2014
Director: James Cunningham
Playwright: James Cunningham
Cast: Patrick Chirico, Ludwik Exposto, Andii Mulders
James Cunningham’s The Sheds begins when an AFL player Darren Anderson decides to reveal his homosexuality to his team and the public. It is not about the experience of being in the closet, but what happens after one decides to come out in an almost entirely male environment. Cunningham’s concepts for the play are strong. The tensions between the sporting industry and the very rare occurrences of fracture in its overwhelming heteronormativity are fertile ground for exploration, and indeed an area that our society needs to examine more closely. It is also a credit to the script that Anderson is portrayed as a liberated personality, without emphasis on his struggles, thus preventing the context from being dated and banal. Anderson’s character is paralleled by his friend and colleague Jimmy Davis, who has his own secrets, and the narrative is made substantial by Davis’ repression and its subsequent dramatic consequences.
Unfortunately, execution of Cunningham’s concepts are disappointing. His script is too obvious and plain, with unimaginative dialogue that feels compelled to tell too much, as though it is playing to a radio audience. Speech patterns for each of its three characters do not seem to vary. The way language is used does not sufficiently relay the differences in background and personalities. We appreciate that they are close compatriots who play for the same team, but the story requires a more distinct style of conversation for each character. Cunningham’s direction tries to create movement for the stage, but it can feel superfluous at times. There is a lot of pacing around, and changing of clothing, as though the actors are unable to deliver their lines without being told what to do with their hands. Transitions between scenes are handled without finesse. The actors often leave the stage, only to walk back in, a quick moment later. The passage of time can be conveyed more creatively than simply providing exits and entrances.
The cast is a good-looking one that represents a contemporary multi-ethnicity. The men are all athletic, which makes their depiction of the sporting space convincing, and while their instances of full-frontal nudity can seem a little gratuitous and distracting, it is nonetheless pleasurable to watch. The acting is not strong, with stilted performances and poor diction that make the plot a challenge to follow, but their energy levels are generally buoyant and there is a good level of enthusiasm that fills a lot of the show’s fifty minutes.
There is an urgent need for diversity in Australian theatre, and The Sheds makes a contribution. It talks of ethnicity, sexuality and mateship in a way that is fresh and timely. Cunningham’s voice is unseasoned, but it is a necessary one. We do not expect success to come out of every experimentation, but it is the courage to try that will always impress.