The Dapto Chaser – Mary Rachel Brown and the importance of language. (Theatre review)
The Dapto Chaser
Griffin Theatre from 1 – 25 July
It has been a highlight of my 2015 theatre-attending year, to see some beautifully written Australian works. Post cultural cringe Aussie aesthetics of the sort that would have Patrick White giggling and dancing about at the pretentious after show schmoozing I’m sure. The Dapto Chaser, written by Mary Rachel Brown is one of these shows. A potent examination of the question, as Brown states in her notes, “… the old chestnut of family loyalty v’s personal agency.” She equally states she hopes we will see the cycles of intergenerational poverty as a trap, but I confess to being an admirer of the unfashionable loyalty exhibited by her character Cess, and therefore accuse her of being so thorough in her relating of the obsessions of the working class that she inspired envy in this little bourgeois inner-Sydney-dwelling leftie searching for authenticity. Despite my foolish failings and my pathetic self-consciousness, The Dapto Chaser is one of those rare works that successfully captures the immediacy of the working poor, the urgency of life on the edge and the unglamorous reality of a “life sliding out of view.” The Dapto Chaser is yet another example of the remarkable depth, diversity and quality of theatre in Sydney.
Part of the Griffin Independent season, The Dapto Chaser is the story of Errol Sinclair (Danny Adcock) and his life as a cyclical law-breaker trying to go straight. He has two sons Jimmy (Jamie Oxenbould) and Cess (Richard Sydenham), the former committed to going straight and therefore virtually ineffective, and the latter determined to make a success of himself at any cost and therefore tied irrevocably to his fathers vocation and life style. The great tragedy of the Sinclair’s is their familial lack of imagination, therefore all their drive to reform themselves comes from within their world with its value systems. Part of the brilliance of Mary Rachel Brown’s narrative is the clarity with which she displays the crippling lack of choice these brothers really have. Brown grounds this lack of choice as a political position (that is to say stemming from partisan interests in a social ideology) via the language used by the family that not only references the life at the track, but is the source of the world they co-create that is their trap. If the real state of poverty is that one chooses to stay (or “get a better job” as our current treasurer would say) then what of the history embedded in language, that forms a world destined to make and repeat itself? Without an alternate language, there is no possibility. Brown hammers this point home with a specific focus on the idioms and street talk of the Dapto locals embedded in the world of gambling on the dogs. Her language is beautifully structured, carefully capturing the idiosyncrasies and engulfing style of a language that maintains a world it built even as it is spoken.
All of this comes together under four beautiful performances that includes Noel Hodda as Arnold Denny, family nemesis. The performers have the all important language down pat and it is delivered with the rhythmic synchronicity and clarity that successfully builds a world. Georgia Hopkins set is pared down and simple, with a neat little shelf apparatus to denote a visit to the track, but the bulk of the style is built through the language that traps these people in their predicament. Glynn Nicholas direction is mostly focussed on characterisation and it shows. The connection between the four men remains true to the narrative trajectory to such a degree that the brothers begin to look-alike as the play progresses.
Through all this serious observation, The Dapto Chaser is also a very funny play, that takes a long wry look at Australian sporting culture and the complexities associated with familial bonding that raises the status of sport to religion. The actors all use the comedy to forge a bond with the audience that quickly transpires into something stronger. Danny Adcock is enormously likeable, successfully carrying the opening weight of the play on his capable shoulders. If he is our introduction, the back half is dedicated the blossoming of Richard Sydenham’s character Cess, the centre of the world of our experience of pathos and the embodiment of hope for escape. When Errol introduces us to the family tragedy, it is Cess we will witness carry the brunt of it at the end of the play. Between the two is the hapless Jimmy performed by a tired and dusty looking Jamie Oxenbould. The titular dog at the centre of this small complex universe is Boy Named Sue who is represented by a treadmill exercise and a cage at the back of the small stage, and made present through mime and panting dogs sounds performed by the cast. It works beautifully in depicting the deep bond shared by the brothers with their dog. At times it almost looks as though the dog trusts these men with its voice.
Mary Rachel Brown is in good hands with Glynn Nicholas, and the Apocalypse Theatre Company has put together a truly beautiful show the hallmark of which is the rich alluring language of the dog racing folk from the town of Dapto. It’s a piece of Australia we don’t get to see often enough on our stages, and one that provides a very enjoyable night at the theatre.