Seeing a play at fortyfivedownstairs is always an event. I love the precarious decent into the lower ground floor of the venue. Another highlight is the real estate fortyfivedownstairs occupies. Early birders to the theatre are rewarded with convenient access to some of the city’s best bars.
Before attending opening night of “Bottomless” last week, I took advantage of this and dabbled in the bourgeois ambiance of Cumulus Up Wine Bar, for an Aperol Spritz. Whistle suitably wet, I descended into the depths of fortyfivedownstairs in time for my second drink of the night, accompanied this time, by the playbook.
Rather ironically, given the way I’d kicked off mid-week cocktail hour, “Bottomless” is a play about (among other things) sobriety. Written by Dan Lee and drawing on his own personal journey, the play explores alcoholism, and recovery, against the backdrop of the unforgiving build-up in Broome, WA.
First and foremost, with respect to casting, Mark Coles Smith was unsurprisingly, a sensation. He embodied a beautiful, strong, yet appropriately vulnerable presence on stage. With Mark, it wasn’t just his performance that was impressive, but his physicality and the movement he incorporated to bring his characterisation to life. It was strong, distinct and memorable. “Bottomless” was a play rich in standout performances in the supporting cast and in my opinion, the other actor that was particularly strong was Jim Daly who played two colourful jailhouse characters, Hobbo and Jimmy. For me, these characterisations were reminiscent of scenes out of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and revealed both Daly’s comedic, as well as his dramatic acting prowess. While these were the two standouts, I also thoroughly enjoyed Julie Forsyth and while both of her characters were essentially caricatures, she played in that space expertly and with great attention to detail.
The more impressive aspects of the writing were in the play’s depiction of Broome. Having just spent three months in remote communities in the Northern Territory myself, I found the play’s reference to the build-up and how palpably the weather is felt in places like Broome, very truthful. I also always like when weather plays an ominous undertone in setting and that was well executed here.
My issue with the writing was that I felt I didn’t have a protagonist to invest in. While I can appreciate the play was an ensemble drama, the story seemingly revolved around Will, played by Mark Wilson and if he was the protagonist, I needed more character development and for his character to be a stronger anchor for the heart of the story. “Bottomless” missed the mark here for me. The play also seemed to stop quite abruptly without a satisfying resolution. There was a reveal of sorts but it wasn’t well delivered and as a result, didn’t have the impact that I think it probably should have. Perhaps this was what was intended but I was left feeling underwhelmed. Further, despite the tension that was built by the references to the weather, supported by the sound design, I didn’t think tension itself was built effectively in the relationships between the characters. In the end, this is fundamentally where the play fell down for me and while the casting was strong, story is what I need to hang my hat on.
What I do think is fantastic is that I can go to the theatre and see an Australian story told. Our stages and screens need more Australian stories. Stories that take the audience on a journey through the landscape of this vast country, whether that be remote or urban. Stories that capture the diversity of our landscape and the dynamic nature of the people that inhabit this land. There wasn’t enough here for me, but I was grateful for the distinctly Australian voice.
Images: Sarah Walker