Mortido at The State Theatre Company of South Australia

There isn’t any sense in which this play could be called (in Mrs Everage’s words), a “nice night’s entertainment”. It’s very title, Mortido is Freud’s term for the death wish, which immediately sets the scene as being dark and threatening.

Colin Friels and Tom Conroy. Photo by Shane Reid

It features dark (rather than “colourful”) language with more F and C words than you can shake a script at, together with all the worst aspects of Western society that are highlighted in the drug scene, and quite possibly emphasised by the “war on drugs” that has tried fruitlessly to exterminate it. So we see throughout the evening, horrifying portrayals of greed, corruption, coercion, depravity, intimidation, bullying, violence, prejudice, disloyalty, entrapment, animal cruelty, revenge, assault – you name it. And the drug users, pushers and dealers we see in action are not a lot worse in their use of these tactics than are the police, using the small fish as bait to catch the big Momma at the top. No-one wins.

With the use of large mirrors that dominate the set, (by Robert Cousins) the audience is ensnared in a sense by the feeling of being part of the scene as we see ourselves in it. Several took the opportunity of the interval to escape. But the point was made – all this goes on in the midst of our society.

In spite of the darkness of the play, the talent of the actors and director Leticia Caceres cannot be denied. Colin Friels is equally superb as the tough but genial Aussie cop and the ruthless German butcher/ drug lord. Tom Conroy as Jimmy evokes pity and even affection as the luckless addicted and conflicted Jimmy – the little fish and victim at the bottom of the pecking order and mire of the drug and gay scene, the biggest loser. Renato Musolino is a convincing Monte: a two-faced greedy upwardly aspiring middle man and loser, as well as Darren – a homeless addict on the street. Calin Diamond is disturbingly impressive for his tender years in the roles of Oliver and Alvaro, and Louisa Mignone as the glimmer of decency yet fully aware of the underbelly of the society she tries to uphold is excellent as Scarlet, and equally convincing as the sleazy German drug agent.

Effectively dramatic lighting (Geoff Cobham), teams nicely with sound (Nate Edmondson) and music by Franz Schubert and The Sweats ominously marking scene changes, and assisting the tension building and marking the contrasts.

As much as this play is dark, dismal and disturbing, and walking back to the car in gentle rain afterwards had a welcome cleansing effect, it is actually an important statement about the direction Western capitalist society is going, putting the repulsive reality of this undeniable part of our society in our face. As such it is a very thought-provoking, well-aimed and well presented piece of theatre, raising the question: are we in fact seeing Society’s Mortido – its death wish?

To paraphrase Wilfred Owen, the poet writing out of the horrors of World War 1, all the theatre can do today is warn.

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