Venue: SBW Stables Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jul 1 – 25, 2015
Playwright: Mary Rachel Brown
Director: Glynn Nicholas
Cast: Danny Adcock, Noel Hodda, Jamie Oxenbould, Richard Sydenham
Image by Robert Catto
Stories can have universal appeal, or they can be culturally specific. The two are not mutually exclusive, but it is a tall order to expect any work of the theatre to be able to explore unusual themes and contexts at great depth, while still being able to speak to everyone. Mary Rachel Brown’s The Dapto Chaser is not a work that can enthral every kind of audience, but it certainly represents a segment of society that is rarely seen on our stages, even if their existence in real life is ubiquitous and undeniable. Four men entrenched in the world of greyhound racing, staking their lives on the ambiguous divide between skill and chance. At its core, the work is about poverty and kinship, and although it can be seen as being critical of gambling, and does portray its addictive qualities as such, great care is taken to provide a sense of accuracy to the lives it depicts. The experiences resonate with a documentary-like truth, but without a watered down presentation, the play is not palatable to all.
Human resilience and the popular notion of the Aussie battler doing it tough, are expressed thoroughly and fluently by director Glynn Nicholas, who brings to the stage a microcosm of a disadvantaged family that is rarely revealed at such powerful and intimate detail. An invisible fifth character, the dog at the symbolic centre of its entire narrative, is given presence by a hint of deftly generated magical realism, but it is the hyper realistic delivery of very domestic scenarios that impress.
Four actors, all perfectly cast, each giving spectacular performances that leave no imaginable room for improvement. Richard Sydenham is flamboyant and wild as Cess Sinclair. He plays the role big and broad, but his comedy is cunningly subtle and genuinely funny. With a less than attractive character at hand, Sydenham brings to the fore unexpected tenderness and humanity at every opportunity, and we cannot help but surrender our empathy to his marvellous work. Jimmy is the younger Sinclair, more vulnerable and much less boisterous. Played by Jamie Oxenbould, whose authenticity on every level is disarmingly incredible. Oxenbould seems to refuse any glimpse of the actor, allowing us only to see the character he embodies. The show is unquestionably heightened in its naturalism, and the actor makes good dramatic use of his lines to highlight the story’s poignancies, but his creation is entirely believable, and at many points, captivating in its emotional sensitivity.
We all know the pain that comes with blood that flows thicker than water, and most of us understand the struggles of falling short at life’s promises, but our stories are not all the same. Diversity in media and the arts is a serious concern, and we must guard against the conformism that comes from a twisted misunderstanding of democracy that is determined to produce a universal blandness. On one hand, our tall poppy mindset persists, and on the other, our middle class aspirations keep our cultural cringes in check. What is generally acceptable, becomes narrower by the minute. Small stories are necessary, because it is in the deep excavation of a singular site, that the most meaningful inspirations can surface, even if they are not immediately accessible to every Tom, Dick and Harry.