Last Drinks / Two Mouths Four Hands – fresh works and ideas in Balmain. (Theatre Review)

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Last Drinks/Two Mouths Four Hands

Exchange Hotel Balmain

November 17 through to 26. You can grab your tickets here.

Images David Hooley

Immediately striking when one has the pleasure of attending Last Drinks and Two Mouths Four Hands, is the complimenting perspectives of a female and male writer. Telling is the mood and tone of each piece – his a tale of loss, hers a tale of possibility and hope. In Last Drinks, three men grapple with the closing of a local pub, an object to which all three have attached their emotional connection to the world around them. In Two Mouths Four Hands, a young woman and her best friend drink together and talk. In the subsequent drunken banter they expose the hidden in each other, and invest alternate scenarios to their futures that might suit them better than the conventional. We know they are going to be ok – they have a strong relationship. We aren’t so confident for the three men in Last Drinks. They leave their pub – their home one calls it – as separate souls, seeking a new place and experiencing a distinct sense of loss. Writer Jordy Shea depicts male relationships that bond over place and object. Writer Nicole Dimitriadis depicts a female relationship that bonds over connection and experience. The men in Last Drinks lose each other with the loss of the pub. The friends in Two Mouths Four Hands are held by an unseen foundation that prepare them for a variety of complex life experiences.

There are similarities between the relationship structures also. Equally, there is loss in intimacy as depicted by Dimitriadis just as there is hope in shedding the past and embracing the future in Shea’s play. Telling is the attachment each writer has given their protagonists to alcohol. Dimitriadis depicts young people at the start of their life, drinking with a little too much abandon; dissecting the world and each other. Shea’s protagonists are older, discovering the problems alcohol has brought to their life and questioning the relationships forged in its afterglow. The pub comes to represent a way of life that isn’t supporting relationships they want to foster, just as it is a link with relationships they want to preserve. However, again, it is because Dimitriadis grounds her protagonists in the intangible, that we get a sense of flexibility and hope from her depiction of relationship. It is the connection and ownership of the object in Last Drinks that heralds a problem for the plays protagonists and makes a bold statement about the way men connect around the object, be it a building or a football or a tinny. Possession always implies loss. This is emphasised by Chris’ (Christopher Nehme) withdrawal from pub life in order to connect with his child and ex wife – two characters who never appear on stage, because they can’t exist in the tangible world of possession and ownership that the pub implies. When Dimitiriadis’ characters discuss children, it is centred entirely on relationship to the extent that sex is removed from the equation. For the man, sex implies ownership and possession. For the woman, sex implies the burden of responsibility. Chris comes to understand responsibility long after the sex act. Audrey (Georgia Woodward) connects to the responsibility completely dissociated from the sex act.

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If all this sounds a little heavy, its me, not them. Both plays, Last Drinks and Two Mouths Four Hands are light, funny joyful affairs with plenty to think about as stand alone pieces. Jordy Shea makes a strong comment about the transformation of physical landscape and its effect on the people who gather in the old-fashioned walls. I once commented to an ex, “Why don’t they refurbish clubs differently? Why do they always look like junky casinos?” and he answered simply “Because they don’t make them for you.” And its an excellent point. Sydney is gripped with a housing passion born of permissive property development laws that care little for the people who will live in these homes or the ones who ar forced to give their homes up, and it is this point Shea’s play brings home strongly. Nicole Dimitriadis’ Two Mouths Four Hands is equally a tribute to the power of friendship and the bonds we form that sustain and nurture us. Her play is filled with recognisable moments complete with very funny performances by Alex Beauman and Georgia Woodward, particularly when they break out into their drunken singing. Last Drink’s Bob Deacon, Steve Maresca and Christopher Nehme work well together under Luke Holmes’ direction and seem to have had a wonderful time working on the production.

Bokkie Robertson directs Two Mouths Four Hands with a strong hand in a tight space, locating the audience either side of the stage, giving the impression of a small loungeroom. It works very well, bringing a strong sense of intimacy to the action and drawing us close to the characters. Luke Holmes uses the back of the Exchange Hotel as the setting for the empty pub in Last Drinks (A shout out to the Exchange Hotel for allowing a play about a dead pub to be performed on its stage) creating a sense of expanse which depicts both loneliness and possibility. One of the strengths of these paired productions is the clever use of the Exchange Hotels little theatre space and the fun transformation that occurs at interval.

Brave New Word theatre company have a committment to bringing new works to the Sydney theatre, and this means their plays are a reflection of our own particular corner of the world. It makes for entertaining theatre that is illuminating with plenty for the audience to connect with, and coupled with the well worn, delightful surrounds of the Exhange Hotel in Balmain, you have the makings of a great night out.

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