Sunday, August 6, 2023

Mr Bailey's Minder


Mr Bailey’s Minder by Debra Oswald.  Ensemble Theatre, Sydney, August 5 – September 2, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
August 5


Director – Damien Ryan; Assistant Director – Margaret Thanos
Set & Costume Designer – Soham Apte; Lighting Designer – Morgan Moroney
Composer & Sound Designer – Daryl Wallis
Intimacy, Movement & Fight Director – Scott Witt
Stage Manager – Lauren Tulloh; Costume Supervisor – Renata Beslik
Costume Art Finisher – Sasha Wisniowski

Leo – John Gaden AO
Margo – Rachel Gordon
Karl / Gavin – Albert Mwangi
Therese – Claudi Ware

Debra Oswald has an impressive career history, writing for stage and television as well as novels.  Mr Bailey’s Minder first appeared at Griffin Theatre in Sydney, touring nationally in 2006.  Among the play readings in 2020 to celebrate their 50 Years of the Stables, Griffin described this play as a ‘seminal work’ for the company, saying “Leo Bailey is Australia’s greatest living artist. He lives in a fabulous hovel, built into a cliff over-looking Sydney Harbour, where his genius battles to survive the effects of alcohol, cynicism and self-loathing. His resentful daughter has been through a succession of carers until she finds Therese, who is down to her last job and determined to make a go of it.

This is a tough and funny play about friendship, forgiveness, ego and the secret longing for a better life."

Ensemble’s production has given the play a new lease of life, way beyond a reading.  Scott Witt’s work with Claudi Ware has produced an extraordinary physically wild character for Therese that makes her absolutely fascinating to watch.  

Yet Ware invests in her Therese a depth of emotion and growing understanding of herself  that makes the play work.  It really is about what being a ‘minder’ means.  It’s about minding about, minding for and minding with another person for their sake.  Ware’s Therese, against her own expectations, comes to see what is needed and discovers she has it within her to do what is needed.  

That’s enough on its own to want to see Mr Bailey’s Minder.  But when you have an 81-year-old of John Gaden’s theatrical stature playing an 81-year-old paranoid dementia sufferer, made worse by continually drinking straight spirits, to display – yet to cover up – his anger at himself, I found myself – only a few months older than him,  amazed at the quality of his acting, physically and emotionally, in this demanding, complex role.  There, even with the Grace of God, I fear I will never be.

Gaden has the comic timing down to the ‘t’, the shock of his aggression well up to the ‘a’, and the seriousness of his sense of shame precisely on the ‘s’, so though we can often laugh at Leo, we are surprised to find we can learn to laugh a little with him.  By the end we find we don’t mind him so much after all.

And that’s the measure of Therese’s success as Mr Bailey’s minder.  Mind you, we must not forgot the other two successes: Albert Mwangi as the understanding tradie Karl – not the Nazi that Leo at first sees; and Rachel Gordon as the rational daughter of an artist whose ‘money won’t last, you know’, but has to decide to put him in professional care when he violently rejects an offer of a reverse mortgage because he is certain that Margo will steal his house – which has something special in it for her which we find out about just before he dies.

And that’s when we recognise the skill in Debra Oswald’s writing.  Mr Bailey’s Minder is not only a ‘tough and funny play’ but a smart play, a clever theatrical work.  

I do mind if you miss it.

And, by the way, the famous Leo Bailey probably didn’t paint pictures quite like Brett Whiteley; or did he?

Albert Mwangi as Karl, Claudi Ware as Therese
in Mr Bailey's Minder, Ensemble Theatre 2023


John Gaden as Leo
in Mr Bailey's Minder, Ensemble Theatre 2023


Rachel Gordon (Margo), John Gaden (Leo), Claudi Ware (Therese)
in Mr Bailey's Minder, Ensemble Theatre 2023