Written by Debra Oswald, Mr Bailey’s Minder won the Griffin award for best new Australian play in 2004. Beautifully written, every character serves as a parallel to the other. There’s plenty of lighter moments that has the audience laughing and entertained, but layers of complexity to unpack further well after the play has ended.
Mr Bailey’s Minder tells the story of Leo Bailey, one of Australia’s greatest living artists, and his battle with alcoholism. Leo Bailey is estranged from his family except just one daughter, Margo, who does what she can more out of a sense of duty than love or compassion. Unable to adequately care for himself, Margo organises a a live-in carer for Leo. Therese is offered the job, despite being straight out of prison, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get off to a fresh start. As she gets to know Leo that sense of new start extends to him as well. Leo Bailey has very few visitors, other than the occasional visit from Gavin who is only out to rip him off and then Karl, a tradie employed to do some work in the apartment but ends up developing a friendship with both Leo and Therese.
The play is performed in the [email protected], a small and intimate presentation space. The audience arrives into a detailed set (design by John Mills) that immediately establishes the scene before the actors have entered the space. The old brick wall of the former bakery suits the set well, and it would be easy for anyone new to the theatre to think it was just part of the set. Lighting design by Robin Le Bond works well.
Chris Hodson delivers an extraordinary performance as Leo Bailey. He is cantankerous and volatile in his drunken state but surprisingly endearing when sober. The contrast between the two states is profound, and explains why his family is now estranged from him, but also why Therese has remained, beyond simply needing a place to stay.
Since appearing in the inaugural production of Cosi by Centrestage, the youth theatre of 1812, Danielle Payet has risen up through the ranks and has again proven herself as a strong dramatic actor in Mr Bailey’s Minder. Payet brings a youthful optimism to her character of Therese, keen not only for her own fresh start, but desperately wanting to reconnect Leo with his daughter Margo. Therese’s desire for forgiveness and redemption is a stark contrast to Margo.
Jenny Lutz is excellent as Margo, bringing the right balance of bitterness, cynicism and duty. Margo does enough to ensure her father is kept safe and cared for, but years of being hurt as caused her to keep him at a safe emotional distance.
Caleb Hilbig is the final member of the cast, playing dual roles of Gavin, a sleazy conman who claims to be Leo’s friend, and then Karl, the kind-hearted tradesman who does strike up a genuine friendship with Leo – and Therese. Another performer who started out in the Centrestage youth theatre, Caleb Hilbig delivers a confidence performance in his main season debut at the 1812 Theatre in Mr Bailey’s Minder. Hilbig brings a sense of genuine warmth and kindness to his very likeable character of Karl. Karl chooses to help out Leo for no sense of personal gain or duty, a reminder there are good people out there in the world.
Wardrobe by Heather Payet is excellent and helps to establish the characters, as well as showing the passing of time – particularly the changing hairstyles by Jenny Lutz’s character, Margo.
Expertly directed by John Mills, Mr Bailey’s Minder takes the audience on a journey through the highs and lows of family relationships and the need for connection and redemption. Mills has found all the lighter moments and handled them with appropriate restraint. The characters are all genuine and believable, while the complex story lines are handled with sensitivity and maturity. It’s a satisfying night of theatre, with plenty to unpack.
The opening night audience were enthralled, with audible gasps and “tsks” to be heard on numerous occasions. There were plenty of laughs, but also some tears.
Mr Bailey’s Minder is a beautiful story about the complexity of relationships, the long lasting impact of toxic behaviour, the need for connection, forgiveness and redemption. It’s a complex story that will linger well after the show has ended.
Mr Bailey’s Minder is now playing at [email protected]
For more information and tickets go to: https://www.1812theatre.com.au/