Exclusion written and directed by David Atfield. The Street Theatre, Canberra, November 9-17, 2018.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
Political staffer Craig – Ethan Gibson; Jasper and Jacinta Ferrier - Craig Alexander and Fiona Victoria Hopkins – contending for the position of Prime Minister and First Lady with Michael and Caroline Connor – Michael Sparks and Tracy Bourne.
Set & Costume Design – Imogen Keen; Lighting Design – Hartley T A Kemp; Sound Design – James Tighe.
Though Exclusion begins as if it will be satirical comedy – laid out in an almost cartoon-like story-board – it turns out to be in a dramatic Tardis form. It looks small-scale from the outside, but once you get inside, its dimensions expand enormously; even quite disturbingly.
As a result I found myself increasingly respecting David Atfield as the play progressed: not merely for his skill in developing a surprising plot reaching an unexpected ‘neat’ ending; nor for providing his actors with demanding characterisations to challenge them; but especially for making me see the complexity of each character’s understanding of themselves in an interplay of attraction, love, and betrayal in sexual and political relationships.
A reviewer should be unbiassed – or at least that’s what many readers expect – but to appreciate the worth of the study of sexuality in Exclusion, one must reveal one’s own understanding first. I knew very clearly as a teenager (the period that each character in the play has to re-examine for themselves) that though I never fitted in to the conventional macho-aggressive male culture, my sexual behaviour was absolutely hetero. As an avid reader of English literature, of course, I was well aware of homosexuality but never felt attracted in that direction (though there were opportunities).
In Atfield’s play of the three men, only the modern younger man Craig (in his twenties) is secure in his understanding of his feelings of attraction and love – for men.
Jasper (in his forties) uses both Jacinta and Craig for sex, but is thoroughly self-centred with little self-awareness – apart from his aim to gain political power. Does he actually ever love anyone?
|Ethan Gibson as Craig; Craig Alexander as Jasper|
Michael (in his fifties) has repressed his homosexuality after one experience in his youth, and has played the conventional role of husband, despite losing interest in sex with Caroline without being able to explain why – until his relationship with Craig allows him to understand himself.
These three characters provide enough rethinking, you would think. But Atfield also allows us to understand the feelings (entirely heterosexual) and the complicated situations of each of the women in having to deal with these messed-up men throughout their marriages.
By the end of the play – just as finally in the latest Dr Who – the Tardis is landed by the women. They have the practical common sense, determination and self-awareness which the male political ‘leaders’ lack. Here there are some implications about our real faction-fighting politicians, especially considering the stories of Catherine Marriott, Sarah Hanson-Young, Ashleigh Raper, and Barnaby Joyce. Indeed, Malcolm Turnbull’s ban on bonking among politicians and staffers, got a mention – and a laugh, though we were well past simple satirical comedy by then.
|Fiona Victoria Hopkins and Tracy Bourne|
as Jacinta and Caroline
Atfield’s women lay it on the line. Hopkins’ Jacinta is absolutely, and completely justifably fierce as she takes charge of her husband. Bourne’s Caroline works out her own independent life. And the play ends with a scene of a quiet platonic kind of love for Michael and Craig.
Marriage equality is the political issue, of course, and Craig presents the arguments in favour as he works as adviser in both Jasper and Michael’s offices. By the end, though, you will understand why you feel Craig is right. Argument misses the point.
As Shakespeare wrote: the play’s the thing. Exclusion is not to be missed, and surely will travel far and wide from its beginning at The Street, Canberra.
|Ethan Gibson and Michael Sparks|
as Craig and Michael
Photos by Shelley Higgs