Review: Gundog (Kings Cross Theatre)

Venue: Kings Cross Theatre (Kings Cross NSW), Mar 3 – 18, 2023
Playwright: Simon Longman
Anthony Skuse
Cast: Jane Angharad, Saro Lepejian, Mark Langham, James Smithers, LJ Wilson
Images by Clare Hawley

Theatre review
When immigrant worker Guy stumbles upon a remote farm, he discovers its state of disrepair to be much more than skin deep. English playwright Simon Longman’s Gundog looks at the tribulations of a rural family, and the disquiet that seems so fundamental to being human, no matter how idyllic the surroundings. There is no shortage of drama in Gundog, although the tensions that arise, seem to emerge from nowhere. We find ourselves in a locale where inhabitants cannot help, but go through immense existential angst, even when nothing much seems to happen.

Director Anthony Skuse manufactures an air of austere placidity for the piece, leaving us no doubt about the palpating misery at the centre of these characters’ lives. A persistent humourlessness can make for challenging viewing, especially in the first half where the storytelling feels especially dour. Lights by Travis Kecek and sound by Kieran Camejo are accordingly severe, but with an unmistakeable sophistication that is ultimately an asset for the show. Set by James Smithers features a raked platform adding visual interest, while Aloma Barnes’ costumes demonstrate an attention to detail, that helps keep our attention firmly within this world of agrarian dread.

As actor, the aforementioned Smithers is a source of scarce but gratifying emotional intensity, with the psychological tumult that he so competently portrays, as the immensely distraught Ben. Saro Lepejian brings understated authenticity to Guy, and delivers beautiful poignancy at a crucial concluding moment. Jane Angharad and LJ Wilson play Anna and Becky, sisters struggling to make sense of a crumbling reality, and Mark Langham is grandfather Mick, the withering patriarch offering a reminder of the family’s painful links to land and heritage.

It is true, that we can escape our homes to where the grass is greener, but whatever causes agony is easily transposed at each new destination, as peace is always primarily a condition of a person’s inner welfare. Also true, is that a change of scenery is often useful for triggering changes in the mind. The outside and the inside are intrinsically linked, and sometimes abandonment is the best gift to oneself, when in search of something better.