Review: Mum, Me & The I.E.D. (Collaborations Theatre Group)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Aug 15 – Sep 1, 2018
Playwright: James Balian, Roger Vickery
Director: Kevin Jackson
Cast: Matilda Brodie, Martin Harper, Elaine Hudson, Philippe Klaus, Joshua Shediak
Images by James Balian

Theatre review
Mary Ellen has been an avowed pacifist since the Vietnam war, but still she was unable to prevent her son from aspiring to become a soldier. When we first meet them, Rob is undergoing treatment for PTSD, as part of the discharge process upon leaving Afghanistan. Mum, Me & The I.E.D. by James Balian and Roger Vickery, is an uncompromising look at the psychological damage inflicted on those we send away to war. The play’s anti-war sentiments are unambiguous and passionate, almost too blatant with their chastisements. Early scenes can feel repetitive, but its latter half turns dynamic, becoming more emotionally involving, as we tune in to Balian and Vickery’s reflections on casualties and their politics.

Director Kevin Jackson demonstrates creative use of space, in this story about intersecting dimensions. The protagonist’s mind is a convergence of confused realities, that Jackson’s staging renders coherent for our benefit. Lighting design by Martin Kinnane proves invaluable in conveying, with remarkable clarity, the many unusual spacial and temporal transformations required of the production.

Actor Philippe Klaus turns up the intensity for the show’s various points of heightened drama, but his performance of Rob’s trauma and suffering can seem slightly affected. His portrayal of a young man’s severe mental deterioration resulting from experiences in the battlefield, are full of conviction, but it is the authenticity in his depictions of family discord and the accompanying anguish, that we find convincing. Mary Ellen is played by Elaine Hudson who delivers a compelling and meaningful sense of depth to the character’s tribulations. Her work feels honest and accurately realistic, often with a surprising restraint that makes things even more believable.

The disadvantaged and the naive are perennially targeted for carrying out the devil’s work, and the world can be a shockingly dangerous place for those poised for independence. We want our young to understand that life is for taking chances, but we fear the irreversible consequences of their mistakes. Mary Ellen and her fierce conscientiousness were no match for the narrative of heroic patriotism that all nations rely on. The heartache that her family has to endure, is a phenomenon centuries old, that we seem determined to perpetuate.

Review: A Nest Of Skunks (Collaborations Theatre Group)

depotVenue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Aug 3 – 13, 2016
Playwright: James Balian, Roger Vickery
Director: Travis Green
Cast: Peter Condon, Jeannie Gee, Penelope Lee, Amanda Maple-Brown, Brendan Miles, Aanisa Vylet

Theatre review
It is the future, and the slang word for refugees is “skunks”. Even though there is no indication as to how far ahead in time A Nest Of Skunks is set, our imagination does not have to work very hard at all to believe that society has disintegrated to that level, where we liken asylum seekers to an animal known for its repulsive stench. In fact, we often forget that events in the play are not actually taking place in the here and now, being so used to prevailing sociopolitical attitudes towards the needy that are already full of contempt.

The script, by James Balian and Roger Vickery, is taut, confrontational and stimulating. It appeals to our decency, demanding that we think about the repercussions of political decisions with compassion and rationality. Convincing parallels are drawn between Nazism and how public ideology is currently evolving, and in its dystopic vision, we see that it takes only a few small steps before fascism ascends again. A Nest Of Skunks is gripping drama, with compelling twists and turns that provide food for thought, along with excellent entertainment. Director Travis Green creates a powerful statement with the text, and although a couple of crucial plot revelations require greater clarity, his storytelling is nonetheless affecting.

There are accomplished performances in the piece, most notably by Brendan Miles whose robust presence and emotional authenticity, ensure that the show is held together by our tremendous empathy for his character Stephen. There are slight issues with the portrayal of language barriers between cultures in the play, but they do not dampen our enthusiasm for Miles’ very moving interpretation of a man in turmoil and desperation.

Refugees are used as pawns in the quest for power by those in the business of government. We are made to fear the weak. Instead of providing help, we turn against the innocent, employing harsh and cruel measures in the name of protecting our self-interest. A Nest Of Skunks demonstrates that resistance is the only instrument we have that could turn the tide. Characters in the play make radical decisions to do the right thing, but what is required of us is only reason, so that we may triumph against lies and greed, and all the irrationality peddled by fear-mongers who wish to undermine the best of our immortal human spirit.