Review: Osama The Hero (Tooth And Sinew Theatre)

toothandsinewVenue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Jan 21 – Feb 4, 2017
Playwright: Dennis Kelly
Director: Richard Hilliar
Cast: Tel Benjamin, Lynden Jones, Poppy Lynch, Joshua McElroy, Nicole Wineberg
Image by Ross Waldron

Theatre review
Just slightly beneath the skin of every human existence lies the barely contained need for violence, but like every propensity that we try to suppress, it finds expression in unexpected ways. Dennis Kelly’s Osama The Hero discusses our thirst for blood, looking at where that appetite comes from, and how it manifests. We find ourselves in an English housing estate, observing a group of neighbours inflicting cruel harm on one of their own.

It is a tale about scapegoating, and the habitual transference of our evil desires onto easy targets. In the case of Kelly’s play, young Gary, and his innocence, become the object of the group’s brutality, and in the process of his persecution, revelations are made about our oft-unexplained and neglected violent selves.

Director Richard Hilliar goes to great pains for every one of the play’s savage moments to occur with great power. The transgressions are hideous, and they are presented as such. A cultural gap exists between us and the working classes of England located at the centre of the drama, and it is arguable if the production’s interest in that specificity of experience has been made to translate effectively. As we are kept dazzled by the uniqueness of a cultural other, we often lose sight of the universality that can allow the work to resonate more intimately.

The ensemble of five is unquestionably energetic and committed, but the challenge posed by Kelly’s language and its accompanying encumbrance of dialects, can be a cause for distraction. Our attention alternates between hearing meanings, and observing the unsatisfying labour put into achieving what is ultimately a cosmetic accuracy. At their best however, the actors provide masochistic delight in an atmosphere of terrifying menace, the kind of which one would hope to encounter only at the theatre. Nicole Wineberg is particularly memorable in a scene involving her character Louise’s obsession over a video showing a man being killed. She brings the show to an intense peak, with the palpable depiction of a woman lost in evil and dread.

Bad people are almost always other people. If Osama The Hero succeeds, we should see ourselves in its characters, and gain a better understanding of the way we operate, as individuals and collectives, in these post-9/11 times of terror and fear. There is perhaps no solution to our unyielding need to make enemies out of fellow human beings, but knowing how that process works is essential if our evolution is to be progressive. When Osama bin Laden was executed, we never really expected the world to suddenly become a better place, but it certainly quenched the thirst of our carnivorous vengeance, if only for a moment.

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