Unpack This at the Gasworks Arts Park, written by actor Geoff Paine, is based on the true story of Paine’s violent altercation with an annoying neighbor and his subsequent court ordered attendance at an anger management workshop. While the subject matter may lead you to expect a drama, the show is actually extremely funny, with an edge. The comedic approach makes the sometimes dark subject matter more palatable, and allows the script to address issues that would be confronting in a purely dramatic genre.

Unpack this is performed by Geoff Paine, Ross Daniels, Syd Brisbane and Michelle Nussey. Paine and Daniels each skillfully play multiple characters, covering the 6 attendees at the workshop between them, while Brisbane and Nussey play the facilitator and his assistant.

The scene is set before the show starts, with Brisbane circulating through the audience introducing himself and creating the environment of the men’s anger management workshop (female audience members are cheekily advised that the basket weaving class is down the hall). As the others join him on the stage, which is set simply with a small whiteboard and 8 chairs, the lights drop as Brisbane introduces the 6 attendees. The lighting is then cleverly used to make the characterisation clear – as each character is introduced, the lights drop, and minor details – a hat, hood, glasses etc are added to distinguish between them. They also switch seats to delineate between the characters. As the show progresses, this device (without the lighting changes) is used smoothly and at speed to transition between the characters. Paine and Daniels both were able to create three clearly distinctive characters, with voice, body language and physical mannerisms.  Paine’s three characters were extremely different from each other, which made the transition clearer, whereas the differences between Daniel’s characters were more subtle. Aside from Paine’s portrayal of himself, however, most of the characters (including the presenters) were quite stereotypical in some way. This was at a consistent level, except for the 71 year old portrayed by Daniels, where more extreme mannerisms could have been used to suit the characters elderly status. It is not clear whether just the basic setting and the instigation were taken from Paine’s experiences, or whether the characters themselves were based on specific people he met on the course, but despite the stereotypical aspects of each character, they each presented moments of deeper meaning as they struggled with why they were there, and what it means to be a man in our modern culture. These revelations are frequently derailed by the passive aggressive approach and anger management issues of the presenter himself.

Aside from the 80’s ‘motivational music’ Trevor (the presenter) played before each session, and a brief interlude between 2 characters broadcast from offstage, there was little in the way of sound effects used.  The relatively small theatre suited the nature of the show, presenting an intimate environment that helped create the illusion that we were all directly involved in the workshop. Costume consisted of simple examples of everyday street clothes, but the subtle, but effective differences between characters was managed extremely well. The addition of a hat, or the difference between hood up or down, visually supported each lightning character shift.

Despite the heavy subject matter, the audience was frequently laughing out loud and were thoroughly engaged with the story the entire way through. I felt that the ending was slightly anti-climactic, but it was also appropriate – issues as large as those that brought the men to that class certainly cannot be resolved in one group therapy session.

Unpack This was a lighthearted look at a serious subject, and a highly entertaining performance. If the play presented an accurate portrayal of the workshop Paine had been required to attend, it seems likely that the writing of the show was far more beneficial than the actual workshop itself!