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Merciless Gods

Photo by Sarah Walker

Little Ones Theatre and Griffin Independent present, MERCILESS GODS, by Dan Giovannoni, based on the book, Merciless Gods, by Christos Tsiolkas, at the SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross, 1 – 25 November.

‘Little Ones is a Melbourne queer theatre collective, formed by Stephen Nicolazzo, which creates camp, kitsch, and erotically charged theatrical events with the potential of cultish fascination. It can be bold, risqué and nearly always comic, subverting classical theatre conventions through design, style and performances.’ – from the program notes.

I remember, particularly, their production of PSYCHO BEACH PARTY, and have heard, for instance, of their furore with DANGEROUS LIAISONS. MERCILESS CREATURES, adapted and written by Dan Giovannoni, is a slight shift away from their usual style, creating an evening of ‘drama’, having investigated the relative savagery of Christos Tsiolkas’ book,  of the same title, which was published in 2014 – a collection of 15 short stories.

Mr Giovannoni has, with the Director, Stephen Niccolazo, taken 8 of the stories and transcribed them into dramatic form either as play vignettes or monologues. The success of each of the pieces is dazzling because of the language of the playwight and will be received, individually, by each audience member according to taste.

Most of the audience will know the work of Christos Tsiolkas from his novels, THE SLAP (2008) and BARRACUDA (2013), both adapted for Television – both ‘softer’ in cultural and social critique/angst, and, so, more middle-of-the-road than most of his other work, such as novels, LOADED (1995) – made in to a film HEAD ON (1998) – and, (my personal favourite) DEAD EUROPE (2005) – also a film (2012).

The world of most of his work deals with intergenerational and inter-racial conflicts and in the more adventurous works is charged with a pre-occupation of the intermingling and ‘marriage’ of graphic sex and violence. The work is supercharged with the sexuality of the marginalised. One being the emigrant story, focusing on the Greek and Turkish Melbourne population; and another the underground world of participators in ‘deviant’ sexuality and addiction.

One cannot help but recall the shock of the literature  of Jean Genet – OUR LADY OF THE FLOWERS (1942/43); THE THIEF’S JOURNAL (1948/49); THE BALCONY (1955/56/57) – or, the work of film maker Pier Paolo Pasolini in films such as TEOREMA (1968); SALO, OR 120 DAYS OF SODOM (1975), when reading Mr Tsiolkas’ work, and never more so than in MERCILESS GODS.

The content of the works, both the Short Story collection and Mr Giovannoni’s play, can be confronting for some, and the visual style of Mr Niccolazzo’s imagery (Set and Costume Design, by Eugyeene Teh; Lighting Design, by Katie Sfetkidis) takes that confrontation further in the theatre. The Sound Design, by Daniel Nixon contributes ‘operatically’, to the vision of the production.

In the foyer, after the performance, there was a debate, among some, about the ‘shock’ content and a ‘wonder’ as to what does one have to do in this day and age to really shock/offend an audience?

The company of actors (Paul Blenheim, Brigid Gallacher, Sapidah Kian, Peter Paltos, Charles Purcell and Jennifer Vuletic) vary in skill but have been well prepared for this season (this work has already had a season in Melbourne) and accomplish impassioned executions of the work, but it is the outstanding performance by Jenny Vuletic in three searing stories that catapults the experience in the SBW Stables theatre into a sphere of high voltage: firstly, as a loving and distraught, grieving mother, Franca, confronting the imagery of her son, who had gone to be an actor in LA, in a pornographic film performance, who is now dead from an AIDS related illness; then, as a narcissistic novelist, Lisbeth, rejecting all assistance from her daughter in a stripped-back nakedness of sheer, unbridled ideologue class rage; and starkly, as Dan, a cancer ridden working class ‘revolutionary’ celebrating with his family his euthanasia over-dose to oblivion. Ms Vuletic’s characterisations are embodied with a genuine rage against the dying of the ‘light’ distilled with telling individualistic insight and outrageous courage – simply magnificent to behold in this tiny theatre space.

If Christos Tsiolkas at an extreme edge of some of the world’s experience is to your taste, Dan Giovannoni and Stephen Niccolazzo, give him honour. Ms Vuletic electrifies, vivifies, her stories for him. Do go see.