Venue: Blood Moon Theatre (Potts Point NSW), Jan 30 – Feb 10, 2018
Playwright: Dennis Kelly
Director: Liz Arday
Cast: Aslam Abdus-samad, Lana Kershaw
Image by Zaina Ahmed
It was only several weeks ago, at the very beginning of 2018, that we first heard about the shocking case of the Turpin family in California, where 13 children were discovered to have been held captive and tortured by their own parents. In Dennis Kelly’s 2003 play Debris, we meet Michelle and Michael, teenage siblings neglected, abused and exposed to horrific conditions at home. Under the care of adults who are perhaps insane, or simply evil, the atrocities that we witness are the stuff of nightmares.
The play is intense and confrontational, possibly exploitative in its relentless depictions of trauma. Director Liz Arday establishes an enticing style and mood for her production, informed by cabaret traditions, complete with microphone stands and tinsel curtains, but there is a repetitious quality to the way its scenes are carried out that can wear thin. Nonetheless, Debris is memorable for excellent design work, with Arday’s own sensitive work on sound and Liam O’Keefe’s adventurous lights, both in collusion to manufacture a sense of electrifying theatricality and macabre decadence.
Two powerful actors bring the characters to life, on a stage that they imbue with frenzied savagery. Aslam Abdus-samad is a captivating presence, delivering spectacle after spectacle, with his penchant for the extravagant. Also very glamorous is Lana Kershaw, who proves herself the consummate storyteller, able to convey depths of meaning and emotion, in addition to her splendid recital of Kelly’s ostentatious words.
Art allows us to delve into the good and bad of humanity, but some behaviour it seems, will forever be beyond comprehension. The best that Debris can do, is to convince us of the depravity that we are capable of, and even though we hunger for an understanding of the origins of these extremities, we should probably be grateful that such abomination exists outside of our personal consciousness. The fact remains that we are capable of terrible things, and societies need to prevent them from occurring, whether or not we know how they come to be. The protection of children, especially, requires no justification. We only need to be aware of the dangers they are susceptible to, and look after them with unflagging vigilance.