Written by Brendan Cowell, Ruben Guthrie tells the story of Ruben Guthrie, a young Creative Director of a cutting-edge advertising agency in Sydney. Ruben seems to have it all: he’s successful, he has a beautiful girlfriend and is at the top of his game in his career. The problem is he drinks – excessively. So does everyone else around him.
After too many celebratory drinks at work, Ruben Guthrie has a serious accident that results in him being sent to an AA meeting and the realisation he needs to stop drinking. As the play unfolds it seems that to stop drinking is easier said than done.
The story begins quite light, with enough laughs to quickly engage the audience and endear them to the central character of Ruben. However, as the play continues, Ruben’s world begins to fall apart and outside of his AA meetings, it seems Ruben has very little support from any family and friends to stop drinking. Ruben begins to implode and the audience is taken on a roller-coaster ride with him.
The set is simple, with cast members effectively becoming part of the scenery throughout the play. Music is used as cast quickly move from one scene to the next, cleverly distinguishing each change of scene that feels almost like choreography. Lighting (designed by Kate Deavin, Travis Handcock and Stephanie Morrell) is used well and enhances the mood. The components all come together to create the illusion of a much more elaborate set than it is and results in a very slick production that moves effortlessly from one scene to the next. The moves are sharp, deliberate and well executed, which only adds to the sense of tension building in the life of Ruben Guthrie.
The entire cast are excellent and well suited to their roles, each giving a convincing portrayal – Andy Mellor as Ruben’s less-than-supportive work colleague, David Runnalls and Stephanie King as Ruben’s parents, Jeanette Coppolino as Ruben’s Czech supermodel girlfriend, Steve Young as Ruben’s best friend who loves to party hard and Stephanie Morrell as his AA sponsor who has her own demons to face.
The standout performance, however, comes from Travis Handcock in the title role of Ruben Guthrie. Handcocks delivers every line with clarity and purpose, ensuring no word is missed and the audience are on his side. Handcock is also the director and has done a tremendous job bringing this story to life, finding plenty of warmth and lighter moments in the text, as well as moments that will shock and surprise. There were audible gasps of disappointment from the audience as Ruben faced challenge after challenge as he was constantly undermined in his decision to remain sober. This is where Ruben Guthrie becomes more than just a story, but rather a reality check for the audience. Brendan Cowell’s play is not just the story of a fictional character but rather a statement about the challenge of our Australian culture and the need to drink – and usually to excess. Handcock’s direction and portrayal of Ruben Guthrie ensures this message is not lost on the audience. Ruben Guthrie is a sobering reminder of a culture in desperate need of help but unsure how to change.
The programme warns the audience this play contains “violence, drug and alcohol use, nudity, sexually explicit action, coarse language and adult themes” – and it certainly delivers in all these areas. The intimacy of the small theatre amplifies the intensity of these shock moments. However, despite this being a very “adult” story, this would be an excellent play for older teens and young adults to not only view, but to unpack and study. Ruben Guthrie is the sort of play you really want to sit down afterwards and discuss in depth – ideally over a cup of Earl Grey, though. Walking out of the Lowe auditorium of the 1812 Theatre to their champagne supper (after we’d consumed our sherries on arrival) felt almost wrong.
Ruben Guthrie is a disturbingly compelling play that will leave you questioning how our culture of binge drinking can ever change. While there is a heavy sense of despair that it seems almost impossible to change the culture, audiences are left with a glimmer of hope that perhaps change is possible for some people?
Ruben Guthrie is currently playing at the 1812 Theatre until Saturday 10th September and is definitely worth a look.