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Home Invasion

an assorted few in association with Old 505 Theatre present, HOME INVASION, by Christopher Bryant, at the Old 505 Theatre, Eliza St. Newtown. 21st March – 7th April.

HOME INVASION is an Australian play by Christopher Bryant that premiered at La Mama, Melbourne, in June 2015.

It is a very interesting experience to see, within a week or so, an older Australian classic such as THE SHIFTING HEART written 61 years ago and be moved by it and its relevancies, despite its period writerly constructs, and to then sit at a performance of a relatively new Australian play, HOME INVASION, and if not be ‘moved’, then struck, metaphorically slapped about, by its relevance and, too, to be able to admire its contemporary writerly formulaes (it is not much like it but this play had me remembering the outlandish, comic-book surrealisms of the character daring of Edward Albee’s THE AMERICAN DREAM, of 1961.) The arc of the Australian playwriting trajectory, from 1957 through to now is a thing to be glad to be part of. Though, I, of course would be just as happy to stretch that arc back to the work of Louis Esson: THE TIME IS NOT YET RIPE -1912; MOTHER AND SON – 1923; or, THE BRIDE OF GOSPEL PLACE – 1926, if any company was interested in revealing those plays of our heritage.

Christopher Bryant’s HOME INVASION is a deliciously constructed work that has a savvy eye on the ‘networks’ of influence of our daily life, and not only satirises, but critiques that, with a humanist concern for the handcart, that we have sat ourself in, and are permissively unconcerned about the gathering speed of the careening of our cart – species – towards hell.

Four women: June and her mother (Kate Cheel), Sam (Chloe Bayliss) and Carol (Morgan Maguire) have spent much time with television, e.g. American Idol, Junior American Beauty Pageants, or/and, well, it seems like “everything”, including those fantastic Soapies, where the convincing, exciting cultural values of these invited home invasions – promised stardom/fame and a melodramatic confirmation of self-worth – have given the suburban watchers the aspiration, the permission and the determined will to pursue those same values for themselves with ignorant and naive passions that ignore other necessary elements, such as talent, that may be absolutely crucial to succeed.

That we, while watching this play, at least at its start, might seriously enjoy the humiliation of these deluded individuals as they appear before us, must, mustn’t it, make us culpable to their existence? We are in the handcart with them.

Jeremy Allen, the Set Designer, who also, beside his Theatre Design studies, completed a degree in Architectural Studies, has created a memory of a vintage 1950’s Interior Design look, aided and abetted by the kitschy (but apt) Lighting design by Alexander Berlage, of lurid hot oranges, purples and blues, outlined in crisp multi-coloured neon, to wittily define the aesthetics of this contemporary play – it captures a longing for cosy nostalgia, a distant feeling of Hollywood’s Douglas Sirk’s signature emotional design appeal, but, with an aggressive subversive edge. The costumes, by Ellen Stanistreet are a mix of a look that encompasses, subtly, glimpses of a certain vintage (which era?) with the frightening adaptation of the modern by an incompetent – mixing and matching unlike ‘Sussan’  – to create catastrophic affronts to good taste and pleasure. There is instead a sneering delight, engendered, in seeing the triumph of the UGLY.

All the performances from this company: Chloe Bayliss, Kate Cheel, Yure Covich, Wendy Mocke, Cecilia Morrow and Morgan Maguire, have been coaxed by Director, Alexander Berlage, to an assured extravagance of delivery that is both over-blown and yet frighteningly true, all at the same time. The psychosis induced in these women by the everyday home invasion from our television watching is remarkably observed and captured, supported by the others with an assurance of genre differences that are almost imperceptible in their risk-taking gestures.

Kate Cheel is outstanding in her double as June, the aspirational American Idol contestant, and her loving, nurturing ‘helicopter-mother’. Ms Cheel captures the outrageous self-delusion of the young, white, aspirational fan of Paula Abdul, who attempts to sing like her, unaware of the cruel intentions of the American Idol machine, as she achieves in the ‘contest’ to the final 85 from thousands, dressed in a horrible sell-devised costume ignoring the visually dominating set of metallic teeth braces and extreme face make-up that creates an image of grotesquerie which takes her to a humiliating arc of self-knowledge that ends in a meaningful tragedy for both her characters. That neither of Ms Cheel’s incarnations: June, or her survivor mother in the resolution stage of their journey, in revealing self-knowledge, self-pity, ever spills into sentimentality, is a wonderful triumph of acting of a first-rate kind.

Vying for celebration, unconsciously, with the work of Ms Cheel, is the dynamic and brilliantly nuanced psychosis of Morgan Maguire’s Carol. Addicted to almost 24 hour television, Carol’s real life is dominated by the fantasy dreams of melodrama soapies and the nightmares of ‘reality television’ such as  the world of Jon Benet Ramsey so that she seeks help from a psychologist that turns out to be as unhelpful as for her as her regular viewing. Her real life and her home invaders’ life ultimately collides with a highly sexualised underaged girl, Sam, who is desperately having an affair with her husband, Anthony, and who carries a gun. The fast-as-lightening flip flop from control to frightening lack of control, the schizophrenia that Ms Maguire executes, for Carol, is a marvel of craft. It is a starling performance that garners both laughter and horror from her audience – and again, it has a hard edge of truth that avoids sentimentality at every turn.

The ‘genius’ of the look of this production and the Direction of these actors in this ‘fantastic’ material is that of Alexander Berlage. Too, his mastery with his Sound Designer, Ben Pierpoint, in controlling the aural environment for detailed and extraordinary support to the aesthetics of the play and production is outstanding – the quality of choice of sound effect and the timing of those effects is amazingly acute – deepens scarily the experience of the play. One has observed his often brilliant contributions to production as the Lighting Designer, for almost every theatre company in Sydney (nominations for design work on projects such as THE WHALE*** THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT*** and DOUBT***), but, now, as a Director, having seen at the Old Fitz Theatre, earlier this year, his production of THERE WILL BE A CLIMAX***, attention must be taken. Mr Alexander has a vision and finger on the pulse of the contemporary zeitgeist, a theatrical confidence of an audacious visual and aural style with a marvellously sophisticated competence in his relationship with his actors to make an arresting mark and statement about the modern times we are living in, it seems. Keep an eye on this talent, I reckon.

The Old 505 Theatre has premiered in Sydney three marvellously contemporary, superior pieces of Australian writing: FLOOD***, by Chris Isaacs; LITTLE BORDERS***, by Phillip Kavanagh, and now, HOME INVASION, by Christopher Bryant. A venue to add to your list.

Catch this remarkable play and production. You will be challenged. You will be rewarded.

N.B. This play was written and first performed in 2015. The Home Invasion not tackled here, is of course, THE APPRENTICE, which for several seasons was led by Donald Trump. In 2018, three years after the debut of HOME INVASION, what cache, what contemporary heft to the menacing satirical realism of Mr Bryant’s play could have been added if a re-write, a new development had been embarked upon, since the first season? Truly, we are living in a Home Invasion. A World Invasion, of a frightening possible dimension, yes?