Tommy Murphy is the award-winning playwright behind the stage and film adaptations of Timothy Conigrave’s Holding the man and, more recently, penned Mark Colvin’s Kidney, which had its world premiere last year at Belvoir.
While he was resident writer at Griffin Theatre Company, in addition to creating the stage version of Holding the man, Murphy also wrote Strangers In Between. The play premiered in 2005 and went on to receive the 2006 NSW Premier’s Literary Award for Best Play. Recently, it was performed on London’s West End, where it was well received. At home, a revival has been mounted and, after a stint at Melbourne’s fortyfivedownstairs, it’s back in its hometown as part of the 2018 Mardi Gras Festival.
Strangers In Between tells the story of Shane (Wil King), a young gay man who has moved to Kings Cross from regional New South Wales. He is the picture of innocence, having lived a provincial life in the country, and completely unfamiliar with the city and its diverse inhabitants. His departure from Goulburn is sudden, prompted by his being bashed by his older brother, Ben. He gets a job at a bottle shop and meets Will (Guy Simon), another young man though far more attuned to contemporary life in Sydney. The two have a number of sexual encounters.
At the bottle shop, Shane also meets Peter (Simon Burke), a gay man in his fifties who he befriends. As he gets to know Shane, Peter becomes a parental figure for him. But, at the same time, Peter is coming to grips with the reality that his elderly mother (who he hasn’t seen for some time) is dying.
While Shane has begun to find support in Sydney, it’s not long before a conflict arises between he and Will. The angst he feels as a result of that conflict is quickly compounded by the sudden arrival of his brother, Ben (also played by Guy Simon) in Kings Cross. Shane finds himself in a situation in which he will have to confront his past, including the events that led him to abandon his family home, and there is much for him to learn to move forward as an adult.
Strangers In Between captures one man’s experience growing up, finding his place in the world and finding those who will be his reliable support and proxy family. Murphy’s text is well written and the story is well structured. Director Daniel Lammin puts the text and characters front and centre in a production that feels authentic and engages from start to finish. Abbie-Lea Hough’s modest set means the focus is never off the characters, though that also owes to the compelling performances of the trio.
As the wide-eyed, well-intentioned but immensely immature Shane, King makes us care for his character from the opening sequence. It’s difficult to believe at the outset that Shane has much chance of surviving in the city, and King’s portrayal of the character’s development throughout, as he’s educated in the ways of the world, is believable.
Simon (who was tremendous last year in his Helpmann Award-winning performance as Jasper Jones) is enigmatic as the more cosmopolitan but soft-natured Will. It’s a sharp contrast to his equally impressive portrayal of Ben, Shane’s inarticulate brother with violent tendencies. Simon succeeds in also making this character sympathetic. And just as he’s an asset to Australian theatre generally, Burke is an asset to Lammin’s production. His portrayal of Peter is excellent, showcasing his terrific comedic and dramatic abilities.
Strangers In Between is an absorbing coming-of-age story that examines the difficulties one young man faces when he arrives at a crucial juncture and must come to understand what, and who, it will take in order for him to be able to go forward. It makes for wonderful Australian theatre.
STRANGERS IN BETWEEN – SEASON DETAILS
Dates: Playing now until 2 March, 2018
Venue: Seymour Centre (Cnr Cleveland Street and City Road, Chippendale)
Tickets: Book online here or call (02) 9351 7940