A 6:30pm viewing of Strange Attractor was a welcome way to spend a Sunday evening in Spring. Currently running at Brisbane’s Arts Theatre, this modern and thought provoking piece is a daring choice for the theatre’s season.
Drawing on themes of loneliness, difficult relationships, honesty, free-will, responsibility and even sexism – this performance will leave the audience with plenty to think about.
Set in the 21st century at a railway construction site in Pilbara (80kms inland from Port Hedland) the play focuses on the suspicious death of the site’s health and safety officer, and family man, Gus (Stewart Kirkland) after a stage four cyclone. The company sends their insurance man Colin (James Fitzgerald) to the site to check for signs of negligence or misconduct before the proper judicial hearing. It becomes apparent to Colin, after questioning four of Gus’s friends and colleagues, that something is being ‘covered up’. As the plot thickens and characters unravel, so does the mystery of the fateful night of Gus’s death.
Strange Attractor was first produced in 2009 and is unquestionably contemporary. Award winning writer Sue Smith has really tapped into the psyche of those living and working in rural mining towns and has created wonderful characters. The writing is clever, thoughtful and witty, and it is no wonder the play won a NSW Premier’s Literary Award in 2011. The play is as relevant as ever, given the recent boom of resource industries in Australia and its affect on the lifestyle of company workers.
Director Greg Scurr has done a superb job with his cast; the play runs smoothly and the actors don’t anticipate moments. Pedro Ramos portrays the colourful character of Chilli, the barman who is at the site on a work visa and is supporting his family back in Saudi-Arabia. Mark Tinsley plays the hardened, working-class Taipan who seems to have a history with company man Colin. Meredith Downes, the only female in the play, portrays tradeswoman Truckie, and executes her role with great honesty. Stewart Kirkland’s character Gus was exceptional. His genuine nature and vulnerability on stage make for a gripping performance, as does his relationship with Truckie (and the other characters).
However the greatest performance was that given by Cameron Hurry. His character Rube was for me the life of the play. At only twenty-three, Rube is the youngest employee on the site. Ridden with anxiety after the death of Gus, he self medicates with booze, drugs and prescriptions and his journey had the audience captivated. Smith has written the character of Rube in an uncompromising manner and Hurry gave a natural and authentic portrayal, without judgement and with a lot of heart.
The employees of Pilbara have plenty of time and money and spend both on drinking. The bar area is central and the bulk of the play is set in the communal mess hall (a minimal but effective set design, with credit to Luis Sidonio). The lighting and sound were both well done, especially in the intense creation of the cyclone in the second half, which had me hugging my legs. The costumes were appropriately ‘workplace’ and understated.
Strange Attractor is here until October 26, running for two hours with a twenty-minute interval. So if you’re looking for a refreshing new theatre experience, head along to the iconic Brisbane Art’s Theatre, and look at humanity in the mirror.